When Linda Wellbrock found herself out of work in 2009 with 2-year-old twins, she took a hard look at the facts:
She had an extensive marketing background in the financial industry, having worked for UBS and Merrill Lynch.
She had publishing, writing and event planning experience after serving as vice president of business development and associate publisher for Garden State Woman.
And she had an MBA in entrepreneurial studies from the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickenson University.
Her résumé — combined with the fact that less than 3 percent of women business owners ever gain access to funding — led Wellbrock to become a woman entrepreneur herself when she co-founded Own It Ventures in 2009.
“Women don't tend to start businesses with big-picture financing in mind,” Wellbrock said. “They tend to finance their businesses personally, whereas men are more likely to go out and say, 'I have an idea for a business and I'm going to raise $5 million to start it.'”
So Wellbrock created the promotional event planning company to not only allow women the opportunity to pitch new business to investors and media, but also bring additional resources to those that currently owned businesses.
Still — it wasn't enough.
So in 2011, Wellbrock created Leading Women Entrepreneurs, a business resource and quasi-public relations agency for women business owners.
“We try to harness the power of the media to showcase women,” Wellbrock said.
For good reason.
According to Wellbrock, two of every three new businesses are started by women.
Currently, 40 percent of all businesses in the U.S. are women-owned — and by 2025, that number will rise to 55 percent, she said.
Yet, less than 3 percent of all women-owned businesses make it to the $1 million market, with 50 percent of new ventures failing.
The reason? Money.
“The biggest issues that hold women entrepreneurs back are access to capital, access to strong networks compared to male counterparts, and access to marketing and media opportunities,” Wellbrock said.
Leading Women Entrepreneurs is out to change that.
While the cornerstone of the business is its ability to put women in the limelight, Wellbrock as CEO has expanded it into a membership organization that hosts regular networking events, investor dinners, educational opportunities and global retreats.
“We now have this database of women entrepreneurs and we know that when they get together, explosive business deals happen,” Wellbrock said.
Since its inception, Leading Women Entrepreneurs has worked with more than 1,000 women business owners from New Jersey and New York — and has increased its revenue fivefold.
And Wellbrock plans to rapidly expand Leading Women Entrepreneurs via a curriculum created in partnership with Mukesh Patel — founder and CEO of JuiceTank, New Jersey's largest co-working space and think tank for startups.
The program will focus on entrepreneurial tracks based on the projected revenue of one's business.
“It will be a yearlong think tank with the goal of getting to the next track,” Wellbrock said. “Each track will have a vested interest in helping the track below move onwards, too — so there is also a mentorship quality.”
But Wellbrock is far from finished — she has big plans to expand the organization state by state and even globally, starting with Her Business World global retreats.
“If we can take women entrepreneurs and introduce them to international corporations, academic institutions and government arms around the world, we could learn best policies to implement back home,” Wellbrock said.
For instance, its first global retreat took place in summer 2013 in Norway — one of the most progressive and gender-neutral countries in the world.
And last summer, Leading Women Entrepreneurs traveled to Ireland, where Wellbrock planted the seeds for her business' next stage of evolution — the WILL Fund.
The organization partnered with the Cork Foundation — a prestigious nonprofit in Ireland that funds local entrepreneurs to scale their businesses — and ran a pitch contest. Roughly 100 Irish women entrepreneurs applied through the WILL Fund, but only 10 would pitch to the Leading Women Entrepreneurs panel that had traveled to Ireland. The winner and global recipient — Dee O'Leary, who created IDme Wristbands, a manufacturer of sports and medical wristbands — will be attending the organization's Top 25 event in December.
“This is an amazing opportunity to showcase how New Jersey is at the center of connecting women leaders globally,” Wellbrock said.
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The WILL Fund
Leading Women Entrepreneurs will evolve once again when it creates the monumental WILL Fund in 2015.
“The idea is to address the No. 1 challenge that holds women entrepreneurs back — access to capital,” CEO Linda Wellbrock said.
On a small scale, the fund will be created using a portion of dues from Leading Women Entrepreneur members to help fund new businesses.
On a large scale?
“I have aspirations for the WILL Fund to one day become a private equity fund that will invest in women entrepreneurs,” Wellbrock said.