"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce


- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -


WomenVenture is a remarkable 25-year old non-profit agency in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, which helps women to start new businesses, develop new careers, train for traditionally male jobs, break the cycle of poverty, and achieve economic prosperity.

Origins WomenVenture has its origins as a careers agency called CHART that was founded in Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota, in 1977 to help women acquire skills and build self-esteem. In 1983, the Women’s Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO, LEDIS E52) was founded to provide microenterprise programs, and in 1989, WEDCO merged with CHART to form WomenVenture, creating one agency that is able to address the wide range of economic, training and career issues that women face. With 25 years of accumulated experience and a steady track record of success, WomenVenture has become a role model around the world for successful women’s economic development.

Aims and Objectives WomenVenture’s mission is to assist women in achieving their own economic success and prosperity. It does this by providing the tools, education, technical and emotional support to help women start and grow their businesses, find a new job, change their career or build their self-esteem. It is committed to helping women systematically plan, identify resources and carry out their goals. WomenVenture’s staff work with the firm belief that every woman deserves the opportunity to reach her full potential; they support women in believing in their dreams, and turning them into success. WomenVenture also seeks to be a regional and national advocacy voice for women’s economic development in the US, including the issues of family stability, violence, and poverty.


  1. Business Development Program
  2. Women who dream of starting their own business, however small, can attend a free two-hour orientation session, followed by a series of 8 weekly ‘Planning to Succeed’ Workshops, which cost $50 each, or 8 for $300. WomenVenture has a team of business consultants who can give one-on-one help, with fees on a sliding scale, and the WomenVenture Business Center offers a research library with computer resources, including Microsoft Office 2000; WomenVenture’s publication, The Business of Small Business, is widely praised for being the most complete, concise and authoritative guide in the field. When they have developed a strong business plan, both start-ups and existing businesses can apply for an affordable loan from $200 - $50,000 from WomenVenture’s own revolving loan fund, and WomenVenture’s consultants can help them to apply for larger loans of up to $250,000 from the federal Small Business Administration. Most of the businesses that start are small and often home-based micro-enterprises, that become part of the fabric of the communities where they live. In 2000, WomenVenture was selected by the federal Small Business Administration to become one of eight national Womens Business Centers , expanding their work to the whole of Minnesota, and enabling them to widen their efforts to reach low-income women in the refugee and immigrant communities who want to start their own businesses. They also started a ‘Self-Sufficiency through Business and Employment Program’, which empowers women who need to find a good job while preparing to launch their business. In 2001, WomenVenture launched a micro-enterprise peer-lending program, featuring a group approach to business planning for immigrant women.
  3. Youth Programs
  4. The cycle of poverty often catches the teenage daughters of women who feel trapped in poverty, who then become mothers themselves whilst they are still teenagers. To break the cycle, WomenVenture runs ‘GirlVenture’ for girls between the ages of 9-18, to prepare them to pursue a career which is motivated by their personal passions, which will bring them economic prosperity. The program offers various elements, including "Girls Day Off" (career and life planning, during school days off); "Take Our Daughters to Work Day" (when mothers take their girls to WomenVenture for a day with a mentor, with groups events, and tours of various women’s businesses); "The Passport Program" (monthly Saturday morning outings with an older mentor, with stickers in their passport for attendance, which can be cashed or a day at the Valleyfair); "The Young Women’s Leadership Program" (monthly Wednesday afternoons for 13-16 year olds, with ‘older sister’ GirlVenture girls trained as mentors, focussed on building leadership skills, and paid part-time summer work); "High School Leadership Day" (on Martin Luther King Day, every January 21st, when high-school aged girls meet to explore leadership issues, locally and globally, with guest speakers); "Mother-Daughter Workshops" (for mothers with their 9-15 year old daughters, to explore career and life planning, body image, story telling, family activities); "Summer GirlVenture Day Camps", and Saturday Socials, including field trips. All of the events are carefully planned to include plenty of fun. From meeting female bank executives to construction workers, GirlVenture also exposes young girls and their mothers to the vast possibilities of careers for women. One of things they teach the girls is that if you want to be economically independent, you can't have a child as a teenager. Not one of the girls who has graduated from the program has ever become a teen mum.
  5. Jobs in the Trade Program
  6. The Jobs in the Trade Program prepares women for well-paid technology and trades jobs in occupations that are traditionally dominated by men. WomenVenture offers 5-week Pre-Apprenticeship Training Programs in cable installation (phone, TV, data and security industries), and construction (carpenters, laborers, tile setters, bricklayers, heavy equipment operators), occupations which offer steady jobs with reasonable pay ($8.75 – $12/hour, plus benefits). After the course, WomenVenture assists with job-search strategies and personal introductions. Previous programs have included printing and telecommunications.
  7. Career Development Program
WomenVenture provides a consultancy program for women who are in a career transition, usually triggered by marriage, divorce, the death of a spouse, lay-off, or promotion. The program includes one-on-one coaching and consultancy, career assessments using a variety of tools, the use of their Career Resource Center, free introductory career development mini-workshops, and a walk-in monthly group. The program helps women set new goals, and develop new ideas, and leads for jobs or career transitions.

Structure WomenVenture is a private non-profit corporation. Its Board of Directors consists of 21 prominent members of the Twin Cities business, finance and legal community, some of whom had the seeds of their success planted by WomenVenture when they were younger. It has 46 full and part-time staff, guided by its President, Tené Heidelberg, and active partnerships with over 100 local, regional and national organizations.

Finance WomenVenture operates a $2 million annual budget. It receives approximately 70% of its income from numerous private and public sources, including the City of Minneapolis, the Bush Foundation, the 3M Foundation, the General Mills Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and the US Small Business Administration, and a $100,000 donation from Oprah’s Angel Network. 9% of its income comes from individual donations, and 6% from program fees. It is also supported by over 250 volunteers.

Performance WomenVenture’s success is measured in the lives of the 58,000 women who have used its services since 1977, who are supported to start new businesses, develop new careers, and find jobs that lift them out of poverty. In 2000, WomenVenture fielded 5,500 requests for information, and provided services to 3,283 women. Of these, 39% had household incomes below $20,000 (£14,000); 40% were people of colour; and 26% had no high school education. 1,709 women found more rewarding work through the Business Development Program, and 87 new businesses were started, generating 134 new jobs. Since 1993, WomenVenture has provided $2 million in microloans to 189 clients. As a result of the businesses that WomenVenture’s clients start, the higher wages they earn and the increased taxes they pay, WomenVenture’s activities provide a 20% return to the State of Minnesota on the support that the state provides. These are the numbers, but the real success lies in the increased economic prosperity and confidence experienced by women who have broken out of the cycle of poverty, who empower themselves financially, and discover that they can live out their passions. The reasons for WomenVenture’s success appear to lie in the methods that they use to empower women and release their passions (honed over 25 years), in their open commitment to the realization of personal dreams, which awakens their true potentials, and in their commitment to organizational excellence and leadership. At their Sixth Annual WomenVenture Conference in 2001, over 1,200 women gathered to hear Gloria Steinem encourage women to come together and support each other, to advance the lives of all women.

Future WomenVenture’s primary goal is to expand all of its programs so that they serve an even wider base of clients. The agency has recently spearheaded a collaborative, grassroots effort to implement a statewide self-sufficiency standard, and alleviate some of the serious inequities that are inherent in the federal poverty level guidelines. Its President, Tené Heidelberg, plans to take WomenVenture to a national level, so that women all over America can benefit from the same support and guidance.

For further information contact : Tené Heidelberg, WomenVenture,
2324 University Avenue, Suite 200
St. Paul, MN 55114

PH: 651-646-3808
FAX: 651-641-7223
Web site:

Written by Guy Dauncey, Sustainable Communities Consultancy, Victoria, B.C., Canada