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Western Women’s Business Center convenes 300 women entrepreneurs, leaders at annual conference

ASHEVILLE— The Western Women’s Business Center (WWBC) hosted their 8th annual conference, “Me + WWBC, Better Together,” at the A-B Tech/Mission Health Conference Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The conference, which convened more than 300 women entrepreneurs, business leaders, and community leaders from across Western North Carolina featured a slate of speakers and panelists, including North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers, and Dogwood Health Trust Vice President of Economic Opportunity Sarah Thompson.

The WWBC is a program of Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF) and operates through a cooperative agreement with the SBA. The WWBC works with women- and minority-owned businesses in a 22-county region in Western North Carolina, and provides technical assistance through workshops, trainings, and one-on-one coaching, as well as connects small businesses to capital.

The WWBC annual conference was presented in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, the Small Business Center Network (SBCN), and the Small Business Technology and Development Center (SBTDC).

“Me + WWBC, Better Together” focused on highlighting the partnerships and collaborations that exist between entrepreneurs, business support organizations, funders, and community organizations that comprise what is often referred to as the “small business ecosystem.”

“The small business ecosystem is a critical infrastructure that uplifts not just entrepreneurs across the western region and across the state, but it uplifts everyone in a community,” said WWBC Executive Director Zurilma Anuel. “When small businesses succeed, everyone benefits—and that’s why we decided to dedicate the annual conference to highlighting how we’re better together.”

Sarah Thompson, vice president of economic opportunity at Dogwood Health Trust, was featured on the sofa talk panel alongside Cristina España, deputy director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Office of NC Governor Roy Cooper; ZHOOSH founder Denise Foy; and Erika Andreasen, owner of EaaS Consulting. “The panel conversation emphasized the importance of women’s leadership in the business community,” said Thompson. “It was great to share the stage with other women leaders in Western North Carolina and share our stories with the conference attendees.”

At the conference, Secretary Marshall delivered a presentation on new business creation in North Carolina, as well as Rural RISE NC, a program through NCSOS that provides resources for innovators, start-ups, and entrepreneurs. “Through Rural RISE, my office is working to provide an accessible platform that connects small business owners to local organizations and resource providers that can help entrepreneurs,” said Secretary Marshall. “It’s programs like Rural RISE and organizations like the Western Women’s Business Center that create the necessary infrastructure in the west, and across our state, to help spur new business creation and help them succeed.”

During the conference, Yvette Freeman was presented with the 2023 Bubble Griffin Award, presented annually to woman entrepreneur making an impact on the community in Western North Carolina. Freeman is the owner of Red Angle Photography, based in Hendersonville, NC, and is also the founder and publisher of The ENVOY, a print and digital magazine designed to educate and promote minority and women entrepreneurs, community members, and creative artists across the U.S.

“Me + WWBC, Better Together” concluded with remarks from Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers about the power that women entrepreneurs bring to the economic lifeblood of communities like Canton, and how his office is dedicated to helping the town through the uncertainty following the closure of the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill. “We are fortunate that many women entrepreneurs took the risk to start their businesses in Canton and have succeeded. It is their tenacity we honor as we continue to build a vibrant local identity, and it is their boldness we honor and protect as we move through this next phase of our history as a town,” said Mayor Smathers.

About the Western Women’s Business Center (WWBC) Since 2014 and with a specific focus on women and minority entrepreneurs, the Western Women’s Business Center has endeavored to uplift and support small business owners in a 22-county region in Western North Carolina. By providing group trainings and workshops, access to capital, and one-on-one business coaching, the WWBC plays a crucial role in the region’s small business ecosystem.

The WWBC is a program of Carolina Small Business Development Fund and is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

About Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF)

Founded in 1990, Carolina Small Business Development Fund is a nonprofit and certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that fosters economic development in underserved communities through access to capital, technical assistance, and policy research to light the way for small businesses. Since 2010, CSBDF has contributed more than $98.4 million through 1,133 loans and 1,602 grants to dedicated small business across North Carolina, helping to create or retain more than 4,700 full-time jobs.


Emily Blevins

Marketing & Communications Director, CSBDF



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