Jessie Yankee, Executive Director, Missouri Women's Business Center
What’s your background?
I graduated from MU with a BSBA and followed with an MBA from William Woods. While I was in school, I worked full-time at the Small Business and Technology Development Center’s state office where I was first introduced to the world of entrepreneurship. After five years there, I recognized a need for affordable small business IT services in Columbia, so I started my former business, EasyPC. After seven great years, we merged EasyPC with another local vendor, Midwest Computech. I joined the Midwest team as the director of business sales and marketing until the opportunity to join the MoWBC found me, and it was a calling I couldn’t ignore. I am extremely passionate about our community and entrepreneurship, and this role allows me to combine both into a meaningful career.
What experiences inspired you to take on this new role?
I understand and have personally experienced many of the challenges women are faced with starting and managing a small business. I have also experienced the power of surrounding yourself with strong female mentors to lean on when you have questions, need support, or simply want to bounce ideas off someone. Leading a program designed to provide this invaluable resource to women right here in our community is incredibly exciting and rewarding!
What is your vision for the Women’s Business Center?
My dream is for the MoWBC to be well known as the first stop for any woman in Mid-Missouri who wants to start or grow their small business. When someone says “I have this business idea,” I want the first response to be “You have to go visit the MoWBC!” My long-term goal is to have created a program large enough to station a full-time counselor in each of our eight service counties (Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau, and Osage).
What successes has the MoWBC seen, and how do you look to expand those in the future?
The center has been open less than two years, but in that time, the MoWBC has helped launch 15 local businesses, counseled more than 150 entrepreneurs, and provided customized training events and networking opportunities to many more. We are working to gain a strong footing in our more rural communities to match the success we have seen in our larger communities like Columbia and Jefferson City. I hope to expand those efforts by continuing to build crucial relationships with MoWBC supporters throughout our eight counties.
What do you see as the greatest challenges for women in business?
We are all striving to be everything to everyone at all times, and we put incredible pressure on ourselves in the process. We are trying to be a great boss or employee, a great mom, a great friend, spouse, etc., all while having a gluten-free, organic, and farm-fresh meal on the table and a picture-perfect home, and while rocking six-pack abs and perfect hair. It’s just not possible to do it all, and we need to stop beating ourselves (and each other) up for not having it all figured out!
What are some resources that would be helpful for a woman just starting out in her own venture?
We offer an amazing six-week program called LaunchU, which guides new or growing entrepreneurs through the intricacies of business planning, market research, legal issues, and much more. It’s a fantastic and extremely affordable program. We also offer free one-on-one counseling, training events, networking opportunities, and other free or low-cost business resources. A client can come to us with absolutely any question about starting and running a business — we may not always know the answer, but we will know who to connect them with to get the right answer.
What advice do you have for maintaining a good work–life balance?
Only say yes to the things that really matter to you. Make a list of your priorities: work, family, friends, fitness, philanthropy, etc. Put them in the order of importance and build your life around them in a way that fulfills you. Cut the things that don’t. I need to be better about this myself!
Are there particular industries where you’re seeing emerging opportunities for women right now?
The opportunities are endless! We definitely have a need for more women in STEM careers, and there’s a lot of initiative happening right now in our community to get our young women engaged in those fields. I think everyone should encourage their daughters to learn and explore as new STEM opportunities arrive in local schools.
How can people in the community help you and the Women’s Business Center thrive?
First, by encouraging entrepreneurs to reach out to the MoWBC for support and training. Secondly, as a nonprofit, grant-funded center with a match requirement, I have to put in a plug for volunteers, sponsorships, and donations. Our centers are made possible by community support, and we are actively looking to build relationships with partners who are passionate about small business.
What haven’t we asked that you’d like the public to know?
Mid-Missouri has an incredible ecosystem of resources available to any business of any size, and many people have no idea these free resources exist. If you’re struggling with any aspect of business ownership or management, reach out! CBT