One by one, each woman stands up and describes her business.
Debt management. Bricks. Sculpture. Organizational development. Plumbing. Demolition. Event planning. Safety and survival classes. In-home services for the elderly.
About 35 women describe wildly different business ideas, but each is at the meeting for the same reason: to learn about earning certification from the Women's Business Enterprise Council. The certification, issued solely to women-owned businesses, can open doors to government and corporate contracts and boost a business' credibility.
Chattanooga's Office of Multicultural Affairs on Tuesday hosted the information session as part of an ongoing effort to boost the number of minority- and women-owned companies with which the city does business.
Only 7.2 percent of Chattanooga's business partners are companies owned by women or minorities, said James McKissic, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The city is working to up that number to 14 percent, he added. The WBEC certification won't be required, but highly encouraged, McKissic said.
"It's good for small businesses to go through a third-party certification," he said. "Not only does it establish that you're a legitimate woman- or minority-owned business, but it opens a whole network of business to you."
All of the city's bids are available online at chattanooga.gov, and anyone can apply to do that work, McKissic said, which ranges from roofing to painting to safety shoes.
"It runs the gamut," McKissic said. "Everything the city needs to buy."
Velma Wilson has already worked city contracts in the past with her company, Cleaning Solutions. She's been in business for 13 years and employs 21 people, but she'd like to use the WBEC certification to secure new and wider contracts with regional and local governments and companies.
"It really would help us build on our knowledge, and being a part of something bigger than we are can help us get more contacts, more training and do more than we're doing," she said.
The cost for a WBEC certification varies based on the company's revenues, but start at $350 and goes up from there, said Debbie Barber, business development coordinator for WBEC South. She added that the certification is only helpful if the business owner uses it as a tool.
"It's not a guarantee, but it helps them get a foot in the door," she said.
To earn the certification, women-owned businesses must prove they are at least 51 percent woman-owned, are manged by a women and are 'small' in their primary industry. For more information, visit www.wbenc.org/government.