According to Washington Women’s Business Center (WWBC), women owned businesses have increased by 28.5 percent in the Seattle metropolitan area in the last 12 years. Nationally, however, women account for only 16 percent of conventional small business loans, and women seeking first-year funding receive 80 percent less capital than their male counterparts.
As a board member of WWBC and a passionate advocate for women entrepreneurs, Kristina Maritczak is familiar with those statistics, and she intends to help change them.
For the past two years she’s been developing a project called, the Women’s Business Initiative specifically designed for Tacoma.
“The goal is to create an economically favorable ecosystem to support women owned businesses,” she says. “We want to have a positive impact on our community through providing women with support for education and the resources to start companies.”
The first step was putting together a committee comprised of a cross-section of the community to explore existing resources, identify gaps, and look for ways to collaborate.
“There are lots of women’s foundations,” says this entrepreneurial founder of Maritczak Legal Group. “We’re not here to create something instead of them. We’re here to create something out of the resources that are already here and supplement them with whatever we think needs to change.”
On Sept. 20, she officially launched the committee with a cocktail hour at Readiness Acceleration & Innovation Network (RAIN), her home base. Members of the committee include some impressive names: Tacoma City Manager Elizabeth Pauli, Pierce County strategic advisor for economic development Catherine Rudolph, Geneva Foundation founder and chief strategy officer Jane Taylor, Bamford Foundation Director Holly Bamford Hunt, vice president Joanna Monroe of TrueBlue, Forterra executive vice president of strategic enterprises Michelle Connor and other women who have built their own businesses.
“I was planning on 10 to 12 people, but it’s closer to 20 now,” says Maritczak. “I tried to get people from different types of positions in the community. The group came together through word of mouth, discussions, and people who showed interest.”
The focus of the initial committee will be short-term, exploring questions related to women in business.
“It’s a fact-finding mission that will result in concrete deliverables that actually create change and make a difference,” says Maritczak. “If someone wants to start a business, where do they go? How can they get through the process quickly? What resources does the city currently have that they could direct into this effort toward positive outcomes and real solutions for people in underserved communities, and how can we make sure that people are availing themselves of those resources?”
Once answers to those questions have been determined through discussion and research, the committee will put forth an agenda. At that point, a separate group will be created to implement that agenda, reporting back to the original team for oversight.
“We’ll have a thoughtful construction of how that will work,” says Maritczak.
The existing group held its first meeting on Oct. 19 to discuss topics such as intended outcomes.
“We would like to have a co-working space for women that includes child care opportunities,” says Maritczak. “There would be a technology center along with pre-screened professional services like accounting or legal counsel, plus training and education opportunities that are already in existence through the Washington Women’s Business Center.”
The membership agreed that a key focus would also be to provide mentorship opportunities for women who are starting and/or growing their businesses.
Education will be key; as a guest lecturer at the Annie Wright School, Maritczak has worked with girls’ upper school head of entrepreneurial studies, Sandra Bush, to develop a model curriculum on entrepreneurship for girls.
“We want to drive innovation,” she says. “The idea is to take that model and launch it in Tacoma Public Schools and other private schools in the area. If you can get students understanding how to develop companies at this age, they can always consider it an option for themselves, when they’re finished with school.”
Additionally, she is exploring options to provide capital to women starting businesses, and is considering starting a non-profit venture capital fund for women owned businesses.
“How can we provide more capital?” she asks. “Are there financial institutions where we can establish relationships? The goal is to have a fund that keeps recycling money.”
WWBC will also play a role. Until now, the organization has had offices in Seattle and Lacey, but no presence in Tacoma.
“Once they made it known to me that they were supposed to serve the entire state of Washington, I said, ‘Great. Come down here.’ They already have an infrastructure that provides information to women on how to begin and grow companies,” she says. “It’s clear that there’s a need here for services.”
A lawyer by training, Maritczak has also worked in the banking sector. Several years ago, she co-taught a course on international leadership at UW Tacoma in an interdisciplinary global honors program. That was how she met David Hirschberg, a UWT professor and the founder of RAIN.
“We had coffee and he told me, ‘I really want to start companies and create jobs in Tacoma.’ I said, ‘So do I!’ We agreed to do it together.”
RAIN, a biotech/life science incubator in Tacoma whose goal is to launch businesses, create jobs and educate students is supporting the efforts of the Women’s Business Initiative. Maritczak simply believes the time is right in the City of Destiny.
“I see this enormous potential here. I see the passion people have in making things work and I really feel like this is the time to do it,” she says. “You have the great resource in UW Tacoma and a great veterans’ community. There are people here from all over the world that would like Tacoma to reflect its own identity and not just become a suburb of Seattle.”