Bad Girl Ventures: Cincinnati-based business accelerator has big plans, new leadership for 2014

'Helping people to reach their potential'

CINCINNATI – When Bad Girl Ventures started in 2010, it was little more than a big idea with a catchy name aimed at helping women entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams.

Now it’s an established nonprofit that has served nearly 500 women business owners in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, positioning them to contribute to their local economies.

“We are helping people to reach their potential,” said Rani Boukerrou, a Bad Girl Ventures board member and vice president of product management at Fifth Third Bank.

Bad Girl Ventures does that by offering a nine-week educational program to women business owners twice a year and giving them a chance to compete for a $25,000 loan.

The Cincinnati businesses that went through Bad Girl Ventures’ educational program last fall, for example, employ 120 people and expect to hire another 100 this year. Those same businesses generated roughly $910,000 in revenue last year.

“Our niche, by in large, is community-based businesses,” said Carlin Stamm, who has been mentoring businesses for Bad Girl Ventures for years. “Every dollar that they generate in revenue, every dollar they pay in wage, will stay in the community.”

New Leadership, Big Plans

This promises to be a pivotal year for the organization. Executive Director Corey Drushal is starting her second full year in charge, and she just hired former Bad Girl Ventures participant Wesley Swafford Deters as the new Cincinnati program manager.

The organization has program managers in Columbus and Cleveland, too. It just launched a new alumni network to help former participants connect with each other. It’s reviewing all its courses to make sure content remains relevant and is working to create databases for businesses that want to offer special discounts to the “bad girls.”

Drushal also is trying to find a new permanent space for the nonprofit that will have enough room for its clients to use.

She said having enough time to do all that is the biggest challenge for her and Deters.

“We want to launch a lot of new initiatives and also want to make sure our classes are staying up to date,” Drushal said. “That takes an all-hands-on-deck mentality.”

But that’s not the only challenge.

The Candace Klein Connection

Last year brought questions and confusion surrounding Bad Girl Ventures founder Candace Klein’s role with the nonprofit.

 

State regulators last June charged Klein with fraud and other misdeeds in connection with her work as the former CEO of SoMoLend , a crowdfunding company she created to help finance small businesses. SoMoLend reached a settlement with the state . Klein is fighting those allegations and has a hearing now scheduled to begin Feb. 24.

While people might associate Klein with Bad Girl Ventures because she was the face of the organization when it started, she began stepping away from Bad Girl Ventures in 2012 to focus on SoMoLend.

“That’s something we took note of in early 2012,” Drushal said. “We realized Bad Girl Ventures was bigger than just her presence there.”

The nonprofit’s board named Drushal executive director in 2013.

“It wasn’t a huge adjustment,” said Drushal, who had been working with the organization since its early months, first as a volunteer and then as the director of operations in Cincinnati. “I had been taking things over, working with staff, sponsors, a lot of the funders. By the time it came, it seemed like a really natural transition.”

The organization remains proud of its history and of Klein’s vision and role in founding Bad Girl Ventures, said Cheryl Stamm, who chairs the Bad Girl Ventures board and has been working with the organization since its second class of entrepreneurs.

“We are not embarrassed by that at all,” she said. “I’m not going to say that no one ever asks the question. But to my knowledge, we haven’t lost anything from it. Our events just seem to get bigger and bigger.”

The important thing for Bad Girl Ventures now is to move forward and continue building support from funders and the community, Boukerrou said.

“Cincinnati needs to know in general the quality of support we’ve been offering and the quality of the women,” he said.

Good Help For 'Bad Girls'

Beth Nowak is one of the women the nonprofit has helped.

The former kindergarten teacher and founder and CEO of the startup Giving Families liked Bad Girl Ventures so much that she went through its educational programs twice.

“There were so many concepts I needed to have an introduction to,” said Nowak, who lives in Park Hills, Ky. “It was critical. I don’t think that the general population understands the amount of work that goes into trying to start any sort of startup.”

Nowak just launched her business in November. It’s a website designed to help parents introduce young children to the idea of philanthropy. Although it wasn’t a winner of a Bad Girls Ventures loan, it has won awards and gotten other attention since its launch, Nowak said.

Deters didn’t win a loan from Bad Girls Ventures either. But her event planning business, called Wesley Swafford Events,

was a finalist. And her experience as an entrepreneur in the program gives her insight into what her fellow “bad girls” need, she said.

“One of my goals is to sort of act as not only the Cincinnati program manager but also be an advocate for the girls,” she said. “I’ve been there. I understand the anxiety and the frustrations.”

That perspective, combined with Drushal’s institutional knowledge and passion for the organization’s mission, have Bad Girl Ventures poised for a good 2014, Carlin Stamm said.

“We’re lucky to have them,” he said. “They have a passion for what they’re doing, and they have talent.”

To learn more about Bad Girl Ventures Spring 2014 program, register for the Feb. 20 informational session here

For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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