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WEV’s Marsha Bailey Puts Her Business Sense to Work for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Founder and CEO of Women’s Economic Ventures is devoted to helping women with limited income and opportunity realize their dream of owning a business

Under the leadership of founder and CEO Marsha Bailey, Women’s Economic Ventures has become a nationally known women’s business center.

Under the leadership of founder/CEO Marsha Bailey, Women’s Economic Ventures has become a nationally known women’s business center. “We wanted to help home-based and small businesses get off the ground so women had better income and more opportunity,” she says. (Jenn Kennedy photo /

By Jenn Kennedy, Noozhawk Contributing Writer | @jennkennedy |

Starting a successful business requires a combination of skills, a network and funding. Marsha Bailey, founder and CEO of Women’s Economic Ventures, has made that road a bit more accessible for thousands of local entrepreneurs.

Raised in Muskegon, Mich., a manufacturing hub of the Midwest, Bailey witnessed the devastation that high unemployment brought to her community during the 1970s oil shortage. Intricately tied to the automobile industry, her neighbors lost jobs to cheaper foreign labor markets. Bailey’s father was a production manager for an office furniture company. She spent her summers during college working its switchboard.

“This gave me the opportunity to interface with everyone from factory reps, to customers, vendors and company higher-ups,” Bailey said. “I became comfortable with all types of people.”

After attending Michigan State University for bachelor’s degrees in sociology and fine art, Bailey eventually moved west to earn a master’s degree at UCSB in rhetoric. She sees the two as complementary and instrumental to her current position.

“Sociology sharpened my consciousness toward social justice and helped me understand group behavior, which is useful in working with donors or our program recipients,” Bailey said. “My art education had me doing our graphic design early on, and the rhetoric and communication made me more succinct in persuasion.”

Graduating in 1972 — which Bailey notes was the year Title IX, the landmark legislation banning sex discrimination in schools, was approved — the job market for women was slim.

“My first interviewer asked me only if I was married and did I type,” she said.

Bailey worked a series of jobs ranging from hotel front desk clerk, hostess and head of housekeeping to waitressing, real estate and copy writing. After moving to Santa Barbara, she began working as the public relations coordinator for the Rape Crisis Center.

“For the first time, I felt capable and appreciated,” she said. “I was also paid well and valued. It was an incredible confidence booster.”

She realized from that experience that she wanted to design a career focused on empowering women without financial resources, who are at statistically higher rates to become victims of violence. The organization also assists men.

Bailey began volunteering with the Women’s Community Building Project, which eventually became Women’s Economic Ventures. After trying various configurations, including a co-op, nontraditional job training and idea incubator, Bailey decided to focus WEV’s efforts on women wanting to start their own business.

“We wanted to help home-based and small businesses get off the ground so women had better income and more opportunity,” she said.

Its clients center largely on service businesses, such as catering, bookkeeping, dance instruction, mobile dog grooming or veterinary, but they also include products, such as gourmet chocolates and a maternity boutique.

Women’s Economic Ventures mainly helps companies in their first five years of business with items such as a business plan, branding, marketing and product development. It offers courses ranging from business plan intensives to self-employment training. The average participant is 40 years old. Since 1991, WEV has helped more than 2,000 businesses, most of which are in and around Santa Barbara.

WEV also provides small-business loans to start-ups that typically don’t qualify at a traditional bank. While companies must have a solid business plan to receive funds ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, Bailey and her team advise recipients on logistics to strategically grow their business.

Bailey considers business to be a creative field. She says she likes facing new challenges and solving problems as they arise. She notes that nonprofits are structurally complicated because leaders have two audiences to please — donors, who are looking to steer the organization, and beneficiaries, who need guidance and access to information and services.

Under Bailey’s leadership, WEV has grown from a small organization with two employees and an annual budget of $75,000 to a nationally known women’s business center with 10 employees and an annual budget of more than $1.2 million.Click here for information about upcoming programs and informational sessions.

— Noozhawk contributing writer Jenn Kennedy can be reached at [email protected]Click here to see more of her work. Follow her on Twitter: @jennkennedy.

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