Opening Up Women

Empowering Local Businesswomen

women's business center encourages entrepreneurship

Emilee Wentland, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Starting a business requires the proper tools, skills, and determination. On top of that, those looking to start their business ventures need proper financing – something that could be hard to get if you’re unsure how. Larissa “Lacey” Ashwell, of Lacey’s Lingerie in Chippewa Falls can attest to this.

“I was a stay-at-home mom, so (I) was being denied by the banks for not having proper financial projections,” Ashwell said, “even though I had this amazing idea that could truly change lives.”

When Ashwell was struggling to start her business, she turned to the Western Dairyland Women’s Business Center (WBC) for help. WBC’s director of jobs and business development, Karman Briggs, assisted Ashwell with organizing data to present to the lenders.

“I decided I needed help and scheduled an appointment with Karman,” Ashwell said. “She was super easygoing and fun to work with, especially since numbers are not my forte.”

Ashwell is just one of hundreds of female business owners aided by the WBC.In their seven-county region, the WBC has aided the owners of 332 businesses in the last eight years, Briggs said. The WBC provides educational training sessions, one-on-one business counseling, a loan fund, and several events throughout the year.

“For decades, women have faced widespread discrimination when starting their own businesses,” Briggs said. “For example, prior to 1988, it was common for women to be denied small business loans unless they had a male relative … co-sign the loan.”

In 1988, the Women’s Business Ownership Act made these practices illegal. This act, Briggs said, led to the creation of many women’s business centers throughout the United States. 

Now, there are more than 11.5 million businesses in the United States that are owned by women, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners, 5.4 million of which are majority-owned by women of color.

Two events coming up are the 6th Annual Women’s Business Celebration and the 16th Annual Women’s Business Conference. The Women’s Business Celebration, Oct. 24 at the Florian Gardens, features awards for new business and women’s business leadership. Lacey’s Lingerie is nominated for the new business of the year award.

The Women’s Business Conference will take place May 16 at the UW-Eau Claire Davies Center. The annual event – which attracts more than 500 business owners, business owners-to-be, and entrepreneurs – is a day of networking, education and discussion. “I encourage any female entrepreneurs to believe in yourself and just go for it,” Ashwell said. “Build a team of qualified mentors that can help you and your vision succeed.”

The Western Dairyland Women’s Business Center is located at 418 Wisconsin St., Eau Claire. It’s open Monday-Friday 8am to 4:30pm.