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Two local groups hope a new business center will open doors for female entrepreneurs around Jefferson City.

Central Missouri Community Action opened a Jefferson City branch of its Columbia-based Missouri Women's Business Center in January.

The program's director said the center gives women the resources to start businesses in Mid-Missouri.

CMCA's Missouri Women's Business Center in Columbia opened in June 2016 and provides business counseling, training and networking events for entrepreneurs around Mid-Missouri. The center also has a Fulton location.

Jaime Freidrichs, director of the Missouri Women's Business Center, said 15 businesses have launched with its help since 2016.

Jefferson City clients always made up an important part of the center's clientele, Freidrichs said. Its new office in the Missouri Chamber of Commerce at 428 E. Capitol Ave. allows the center to better serve those clients.

"Having that dedicated space shows our commitment to wanting to groom women in Jefferson City who are wanting to open a business or to have a business if they want to," Freidrichs said.

As director of Lincoln University's branch of the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center, Joy Wheatfall works with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Missouri to help entrepreneurs around Jefferson City. She started her role in mid-October and began thinking of ways to better serve Jefferson City entrepreneurs and small business owners. Shortly after she started at Lincoln, Wheatfall approached CMCA with the idea.

"It's great to have a women's center in Jefferson City," Wheatfall said. "It's been an automatic fit."

In November, a Jefferson City chapter of the Kaufman Foundation networking group 1 Million Cups began hosting monthly meetings at The Linc wellness center. Wheatfall said she hopes resources like the SBTDC, the Missouri Women's Business Center and networking groups like 1 Million Cups keep more entrepreneurs in Jefferson City.

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"They've been moving from Jeff City to Columbia because they've always had that resource," Wheatfall said.

The Missouri Women's Business Center plans to host a monthly workshop at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. Another monthly event held in partnership with the Jefferson City chamber and Lincoln SBTDC called a Mastermind Exchange also will be held each month. The Mastermind Exchange workshops help female business owners get ideas to grow their businesses.

This spring, the center will run its Launch U program, a six-week course that teaches participants about creating a business and business plan. Launch U participants can be business owners in the idea phase or own businesses up to two years old. Freidrichs said the support of the Lincoln SBTDC makes programs and courses like Launch U possible.

Starting a business can be intimidating, so the center coaches people in ways that de-mystify the process and take people step by step through the things they need to do to launch a company, Freidrichs said.

"Entrepreneurship can be very lonely, especially if you don't have a lot of business owners in your network to relate to," she said. "The risks that you're taking, the types of issues you tend to deal with — that can be fairly universal."

The center has helped launch a marketing company, a yoga studio, a photography business and a pet-grooming business, among others. Businesses launched by the center's clients tend to be traditional main street businesses, Freidrichs said. Clients span all age groups from college students to retirees.

Freidrichs said the center welcomes men at almost every event except the Mastermind Exchange.

Still, the center primarily focuses on helping women. A 2017 study from nonprofit think-tank The Center for American Progress found women make up 44 percent of the workforce and 36 percent of first and mid-level managers at companies on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index. Despite this, women hold only 25 percent of executive positions and 20 percent of seats on boards of directors and comprise only 6 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.

Freidrichs said women are less likely to be approved for a small business loan. A minuscule percentage of venture capital goes to women. Still, the center tries to put more women in leadership roles by giving them a platform to build their own business from the ground up, Freidrichs said.

"The way to get into a leadership role is to start your own company," Freidrichs said. "That's our core mission."

Wheatfall mentioned the recent #MeToo movement, which demonstrates the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace, as an example of the ways women can band together.

When women work together, they can do anything, Wheatfall said.

"When they come together in large numbers, that's when you can see some changes," Wheatfall said.

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