Maybe you picked up a new skill or two during the pandemic and running a business is your newest inspiration.

This summer, Mercy Connections can help by offering female entrepreneurs a semester-long online course on starting a business.

“Because of COVID, people are really taking stock of their lives,” said Lisa Wood, director of Mercy Connections. “And this is needed because women have a disadvantage in the business world and we are there to lift them up.”

The Women’s Small Business Program began in 1989 at Trinity College before turning it over to Mercy Connections. The Burlington-based organization also has programs for new Americans and formerly incarcerated women.

Start Up is the signature business course for women.

“We estimate anywhere between 1,500 and 1,800 women have been through the program at Trinity,” said Wood.

Today, the program is known for helping launch 150 active, women-owned businesses in the state. One participant, who was one of the first graduates of the program, went on to open August First Bakery with her husband.

“The class really was the foundation for a lot of the skills that I needed in order to open August First. So the work that I did there writing a business plan, it stuck with me for years,” said co-owner Jodi Whalen.

Whalen said, in the ’90’s, she originally wanted to pursue a care-package company for college students.

“I actually didn’t open it because back then, we didn’t have the internet, and I couldn’t find my customers. I wanted to target college students and their parents, and they’d just order a care package from me and I’d just deliver it,’ said Whalen.

Whalen said she appreciated the program setting her on a different path. In 2009, she and her husband opened her bakery and café, home to award-winning pastries and bread.

The program changed the life of another aspiring entrepreneur — a woman who moved to Vermont from Central Africa.

“I had an experience working in a hotel doing a cleaning job and it was chemicals every day and I was like, ‘If I want to do this, I don’t want to be unhappy when I’m working,'” said Marie Teme, owner of Green Vision Cleansing.

Teme earned her bachelor’s degree in bilingual studies in Cameroon and her MBA in International Management in Senegal. She moved to Vermont in May 2018 and found herself in the classroom yet again by enrolling in Mercy Connections’ Small Women’s Business Program. In one year, she launched her own business, Green Vision Cleaning.

“I needed to have something that would differentiate me,” said Teme.

Teme said while holding down her day job, she spent weekends in the library and many sleepless nights studying and developing her business. To make her cleaning supplies both effective and safe, she learned how to make her own with essential oils and other natural ingredients.

“Being in a community where I can learn from other women, and I can connect, it was really great. And this is what I really needed. The connections,” said Teme.

She said the program enabled her to quit her day job and focus on her cleaning business full time. Today, she has nearly 20 clients.

“If you have an idea for a business and you have a dream, there is no time like the present. Do it now and we can help,” said Wood.

The deadline to apply for Start Up is August 20.  Students can receive financial help through the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation as well as scholarships from Mercy Connections. 

For more information on tuition, financial assistance, and programs, visit the website here.

*Correction: the program is called the Women’s Small Business Program, NOT Small Women’s Business Program as mentioned in the story.