Photo Caption:  A contingent from Dress for Success Seattle accepted a check for more than $1,000 at last year’s Key4Women forum. Photo courtesy of KeyBank.

Inspiring women to become sustainable business owners, nonprofit executives or other business leaders, KeyBank’s Key4Women® membership program has been an anchor for empowerment and education since 2005.

Whether it’s learning to find a business niche, gaining insight on how to utilize social media to enhance small business or simply finding a network of supporters that share the same passion for business,  Key4Women  has become a national platform with strong local ties.

“Huge numbers of women are becoming business owners locally,” says Courtney Jinjika, vice president and area retail leader for the KeyBank Seattle-Cascades District. “They want to be educated on financial matters.”

Nationally, the growth is becoming evident. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 44 percent — twice as fast as firms owned by men.

Having a nationwide network of women in business, members can  gather at workshops to discover innovative approaches in businesses while building relationships that enable ongoing education and dialogue.

“It really is all about the connection,” says Andrea Hueston, a member of the Key4Women National Advisory Board and CEO of Artitudes Design, Inc. in Issaquah, Wash., “I have a network that I trust. When I need another opinion or knowledge about the industry, the network has been an amazing resource.”

Women-owned businesses contribute significantly to the U.S. economy. In a recent report by the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute, they will account for one-third of the new jobs created by 2018.

Despite this successful trend and the anticipated rise, women in business have been met with challenges.

“Most women in business are in a boot-strap,” says Hueston. “What I mean is that women are not willing to ask for help. And that’s a huge thing. It took me a long time to want to take a loan or owe anybody money.”
Hueston recalls the difficult challenge her company faced just last year.

“I wouldn’t have made it if I didn’t go to KeyBank,” says Hueston. “They are very willing to work with women business owners. I adore KeyBank. They taught me how to be smarter with business.”

Understanding the unique challenges that women face as business owners, Key4Women underscores  the importance of diversity and supports the steady increase of minority women in businesses.

“Our Key4Women Forums benefit programs like Dress for Success and we also have partnerships with the National Minority Supplier Development Council,” says Jinjika.

According to the 2007 Survey of Business Owners, almost 800,000 small businesses are owned by Latinas; more than 900,000 small businesses are owned by Black/African American women, more than 500,000 small businesses are owned by Asian/Pacific Islander women and nearly 15,000 small businesses are owned by American Indian/Alaskan Native females.

When the economic downturn hit, KeyBank continued  lending to women.For Key4Women members, relationship managers at the district level provide ongoing guidance and tools so women business owners can learn how to make smarter financial decisions — especially during periods of recession.

“Membership in the Greater Seattle area started very small in 2005,” says Jinjika. “But now, our number has quadrupled. And many members have more than  checking or savings accounts. They hold accounts to manage retail and other commercial businesses.”

From word of mouth, one connection to another, women are empowering women. From an aspiring entrepreneur planning to head a startup business to a veteran with a strategic five-year plan, Key4Women offers support for all women at different stages of their business. The key purpose is to help women start, grow and thrive.

“What continues to inspire me is to see women in business grow. I’ve seen them develop from a small business, to taking larger loans and moving into bigger private and commercial businesses,” says Jinjika. “It inspires me to watch the growth that happens.”

Along with educational tips, Key4Women offers moments for connection so the solidarity can be built and strengthened.

Roundtables, conferences, face-to-face workshops and financial forums create the opportunity to make new business contacts and share business experiences with each other. Personal advisors work closely with clients to access capital and customize financial solutions.

“It was the best thing I ever did for my business,” claims Hueston. “Had I not found an advisor through KeyBank, I wouldn’t survive. They have been vital to my success.”

Since 2005, Key has lent more than $6 billion to women operating businesses of all sizes in the 14 states where it does business. In addition to its lending goal for women business owners, in 2011, KeyBank committed to lend $5 billion to small-businesses overall in the next three years.

Start spreading the news to your favorite local coffee shop or your auntie’s grocery store.

To learn more about Key4Women, please visit www.key.com/women.

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