WEV's History

A Vision for the Future

WEV was founded in 1991 with the mission to support women in becoming economically self-sufficient through entrepreneurship.
At that time, women’s economic and workplace rights were not keeping pace as women’s workforce participation increased, and it was virtually impossible for women to access the funding necessary to start their own ventures.


WEV sought to change the narrative: to promote women’s entrepreneurship as a means to a successful, independent life and career with accessible business capital.




WEV was one of only a handful of women’s business organizations operating in the United States at the time, with no blueprint for what women needed to start and grow their businesses.


“We started getting phone calls from people saying, ‘I heard you had this loan program for women in business and I don’t need a loan, but I really need some training’.”

Marsha Bailey, WEV Founder


WEV’s first Self-Employment Training (SET) program was launched in 1992 to meet the need for practical guidance in starting and running a business. This foundational training program evolved into the flagship program that WEV still offers today.

In 1995, partnering with local municipal agencies and banking institutions to create an innovative model for community re-investment, WEV offered one of the first community lending programs in the US to serve the small business community.”


Instructors and students in early business training classes beside news clipping featuring Santa Barbara Loan Fund.


“We were out ahead of banks in what was happening in the community re-investment area. They didn’t even have a name then for the kind of investment those banks made in our loan fund.”

WEV Impact Report 2016


WEV further expanded its capacity to fund small businesses by becoming a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in 1999.




After a decade supporting entrepreneurs in Santa Barbara County, WEV looked to increase its capacity to support entrepreneurship by opening a second office in Ventura County and becoming a SBA Women’s Business Center. It also expanded its programming to better support the needs of women who were already business owners.


“I was finally able to find hope when I discovered WEV. My business grew more in the 5 years after graduating WEV than it had in the first 15 years of business.”

Estela Flores, Stel House Cleaning


Jane Pollak teaches a WEV Smart Entrepreneurial Training (SET) class.


Following the Great Recession in 2008, WEV recognized the need to provide increased support to impacted business owners and created the Thrive Business Consulting program to provide long-term, individualized coaching and guidance. This program helped businesses recover, grow, and create jobs for others at a time of high unemployment and economic challenge. Today, Thrive continues to be one of WEV’s most valued client offerings.


Thrive business consulting clients Laura Dunbar, Jean-Michel and Jill Carre, and Karen Boublis, shown in their businesses




With support from the Rotary International foundation, WEV created the WEV en Español program in 2012, offering culturally relevant business classes in Spanish, and hired its first bilingual loan officer to make WEV’s funding more accessible to Hispanic community members.


“While WEV had offered courses in Spanish for some time, we recognized that simply translating our programs from English to Spanish didn’t truly meet the needs of our community. Now, WEV works to ensure our classes are designed to be culturally relevant and accessible to all our Hispanic community members.”

Ashley Goldstein, Learning Solution Manager and Women’s Business Center Director


Gelacio Lopez with his employees outside his business, Taqueria Guerrero.


WEV became a community leader in disaster recovery and financial resilience, supporting small businesses that had been impacted by the devastating Thomas, Hill & Woolsey Fires, and the Montecito Debris Flow in 2018 and 2019.

In partnership with Wells Fargo, WEV created two new emergency funding programs for small businesses – the Quick Response Loan and the Disaster Recovery Grant – which disbursed over $875,000 to 110 businesses, as well as provided hundreds of hours of pro-bono advising, to business owners across the affected region. WEV became a voice for local small business, collaborating with local agencies and organizations to advocate on behalf of economically impacted business owners.


“Losing everything we ever owned in the Woolsey Fire is almost beyond comprehension. Women’s Economic Ventures is the first and only organization that reached out to us with assistance to rebuild our business.”

Kimberlee Kayton, Apex Building Construction Associates


Business owners impacted by the Thomas Fire & Montecito Debris flow receive Business Recovery Grants.




In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic prompted WEV, like many of the business it serves, to evolve…fast!

Newly under the leadership of CEO Kathy Odell, the organization pivoted as shutdowns began to provide online training programs and short-term pro-bono business consulting. Weekly “WEVWorks” webinars supported business owners, providing information about resources and helping them navigate the complexities of accessing emergency federal funding. WEV reactivated its Quick Response Loans and, in just four months, disbursed 67 loans totaling over $500,000.


“With the onset of COVID-19 we saw 100% rescheduling or cancelling of business... I called WEV and they immediately provided information, resources and introduced me to a local financial coach who I was fortunate enough to meet with that very day. Because of WEV’s quick response, I was able to get financial advice and a loan that helped my efforts to keep my business open.”

Gabrielle Moes, Seasons Catering, Inc.


In 2021 WEV’s Emprendimiento program was launched with the support of the California Employment Training Panel to promote social entrepreneurship and provide business training and financial grants to historically underserved Hispanic and Indigenous populations in the region.


Aspiring entrepreneurs graduating from WEV's Emprendimiento program, with instructor Carla Blandon.


WEV also launched an innovative Forgivable Business Loan & Consulting Program to support small business owners from historically marginalized communities with funding from Kaiser Permanente and the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB).


“While we’ve made huge progress, we also know that the pandemic hit women in business and the workforce hard – women’s participation in the workforce dropped to the lowest level since 1986. Once again, WEV was there with funding and support to retain and restore women’s businesses. We don’t necessarily know what might come next, but we know that WEV will step up to meet those needs.”

Kate Silsbury, longtime WEV supporter





WEV + The Power of You

Today, WEV’s services and programs are more accessible for small business owners and its offerings promote women’s economic empowerment beyond entrepreneurship.

  • WEV offers more classes than ever before. More specialized topics – like financial empowerment and marketing – are presented in both English and Spanish, with more options for when and where learning can take place.

WEV leans in to help address additional barriers to women’s success, partnering with local organizations to provide childcare providers with business training, and creating financial empowerment programs to promote personal financial well-being.

  • WEV diversifies its individualized consulting programs. Options are now available for long-term and short-term access to expert consultants in both English and Spanish.
  • WEV reduces barriers to capital access. WEV’s small business funding options are more accessible, with lower fees, reduced interest rates, and increased grant opportunities.


WEV offers a community of support to help women succeed in their own way and on their own terms. This community fills the need for knowledge, advice, capital, and a place to go to find coaches, teammates, and cheerleaders who support them in achieving their dreams.


“A new wave of entrepreneurs is starting out now with the core belief that work should be rewarding - emotionally, psychologically, and financially. Work should enable us to care for our families and actually have time to spend with our families. To contribute to the health and well-being of our communities. Think what our lives and our communities might become if they succeed. I hope you find that prospect as exciting as we do, because WEV needs your support to help them change the world.”

Kathy Odell, CEO emerita



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