With failures and successes behind them, woman lift each other up through POWER program

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Michelle Brumfield talks about her business, BedCrafters by Michelle, in a video interview on her website. (Courtesy photo/BedCrafters by Michelle)
Michelle Brumfield talks about her business, BedCrafters by Michelle, in a video interview on her website. (Courtesy photo/BedCrafters by Michelle)

Michelle Brumfield was working in a mattress factory over 20 years ago when she decided she wanted to do more.

Brumfield had suffered for years from injuries sustained while playing sports, and knew there were many other people in the U.S. suffering the same way.

It was then that she jumpstarted her Williamsburg-based business, BedCrafters by Michelle, a mattress company that customizes mattresses to fit customers of different sizes and disabilities.

Now, 20 years later, Brumfield is a successful businesswoman who owns three retail stores in Virginia.

While her determination has fueled her company’s growth, Brumfield also says another resource aided her: Programs aimed at women business owners.

Since 2014, Sonabank’s POWER (Potential of Women Entrepreneurs Realized) program has focused on connecting women entrepreneurs and giving them resources to succeed in a male-dominated field.

While the POWER program is run by a bank, helping with loans and other financings, the program has more to offer: A female-focused support system made up of more than 800 other women.

“It’s women supporting other women and lifting them up,” Michelle Simon, senior vice president of Sonabank, said.

Casting a wide net

Sonabank – and by association, the POWER program – serves the Hampton Roads region, central Virginia, Northern Virginia and southern and eastern Maryland. The bank has 45 locations.

POWER was created almost four years ago when the small, local bank, was looking for a way to make its mark.

“We realized not one bank in Virginia was really focusing on women in business,” Simon said.

Now, POWER has a full event calendar with networking events and workshops, as well as a podcast, private Facebook group for sharing resources, POWER checking account, loan program and more.

Brumfield got involved with POWER after meeting a program member at a networking event. She is now on the POWER program board.

“She told me about the bank and how they supported women,” Brumfield said. “I know how difficult it can be to run a business and run a house.”

Zee Worstell, CEO of AccelerateHER, said female-focused support programs and education are vital for new businesses. (Courtesy photo/Zee Worstell)
Zee Worstell, CEO of AccelerateHER, said female-focused support programs and education are vital for new businesses. (Courtesy photo/Zee Worstell)

POWER in numbers

Zee Worstell, CEO of AccelerateHER, said female-focused support programs and education are vital for new businesses.

AccelerateHER is a Williamsburg-based business training program for women who are looking to grow their businesses. The business offers educational materials and sessions to train women about financial planning, hiring employees and creating a positive work environment.

Worstell helped launch the POWER program and has spoken at POWER events.

“A lot of women don’t have the same support network men do,” Worstell said. “A man could go to buddies they know, like a banker or accountant or laywer, and get help. I don’t believe those things happen as much for women.”

POWER connects women with each other to foster growth in their businesses, but also connects the business owners with resources they need, according to Julie Hill, director of POWER.

For example, one POWER member needed signage for her business, and was able to connect with another business owner who ran a sign-making shop.

Another business had an event venue, but needed an event coordinator. Though POWER, the venue’s owner found a female event coordinator and joined forces, Hill said.

Zee Worstell, CEO of AccelerateHER, said female-focused support programs and education are vital for new businesses. (Courtesy photo/Zee Worstell)
Zee Worstell, CEO of AccelerateHER, said female-focused support programs and education are vital for new businesses. (Courtesy photo/Zee Worstell)

POWER also helps women connect and share strategies that worked or didn’t work.

“If you share that weakness and pain that caused your failure, you’re lessening the chance another woman you talk to will suffer that too,” Brumfield.

Room for more

Women-owned businesses are becoming more common throughout the United States, but there is still room for growth – including locally in the Williamsburg area, Simon said.

As of 2015, women-owned firms still only accounted for 30 percent of all enterprises in the United States, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners.

Further, women-owned firms only employ six percent of the country’s workforce.

Between 2007 and 2015, women-owned firms have added an estimated 274,000 jobs to the U.S. economy, according to the most recent data available from NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners).

Virginia is also one of ten states with the fastest growth in number, employment and revenues of women-owned firms since 1997, according to NAWBO.

“In 2015, over 200,000 businesses were owned by women in Virginia,” Simon said.

“That’s one thing we drive home all the time: POWER is not a promotion. It’s not products, it’s not packaging. It’s a movement, and what we want to do is help women take their businesses to the next level.”

Want to get involved?

When a business owner joins POWER, they set up a “discovery meeting” with program officials to hash out their needs, Simon said.

“We find their needs and then figure out who to reach out to for them,” Simon said. “Sometimes they need connections with other businesses, too. We don’t just stop when you open an account.”

The only requirement to join the program is that a participant must be a Sonabank customer – meaning they have a checking account, savings accounts, or a loan.

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