WISE center empowers women in business with hands-on approach at each stage

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Azra Gradincic began working at the WISE Women’s Business Center as program manager four weeks ago, but she’s known about WISE for much longer.

“Back in the day, when I was a stay-at-home mom … I thought, ‘Oh, I want to do bookkeeping for small businesses,'” said Gradincic, who has an accounting degree. “I participated in some networking, round tables and all that, so that’s how I got into WISE, by being a small business owner.”

WISE, which stands for Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, is a multipurpose office located in Equitable Tower 1 on Madison Street, dedicated to helping women succeed in business. Broadly, the WISE Center is able to meet women wherever they are at on their journey, be it starting their business from scratch or improving on an older foundation.

Gradincic, who knows from her previous experience what it is like to be a small business owner, values ​​the multifaceted work she does at the center, as someone who now coordinates programming for aspiring business owners.



“This position, for me, puts together everything that I love to do all in one packaging, and I get paid to do it,” Gradincic said. “It’s amazing.”

The WISE Center offers a variety of services to its clients, including holding a small business resilience training program that’s specifically outfitted to help businesses through the pandemic and assembling cohorts of business owners and walking them through an intensive, step-by-step process resulting in a refined business plan. The center, which was established in 2006, has grown and specified its approaches to business counseling through the pandemic thanks to the leadership of its all-female team.

One of those women is Barb Stone, a business counselor at the WISE Center and owner of a leadership coaching company. Stone plays an important role at WISE: with the assistance of Caeresa Richardson and Dana Zanders, the two other business counselors at WISE, she coaches individual clients about how to maximize their potential as small business owners. All three women own companies themselves, making their personal and customized feedback informed on the challenges of being a woman in business.

“We as women think we can do it all, we don’t need any help,” Stone said. “I needed to become this coach to be able to help people find that purpose, that voice, because I truly believe that we are all leaders. But we’ve got to start with ourselves first, before we can really lead an organization and move things forward.”

At its core, the WISE Center strives to utilize the expertise of female business owners and leaders to empower other women. In addition to providing coaching and developmental resources, WISE has a client directory list, featuring dozens of small businesses owned by women in central New York. Resources like the directory list demonstrate the center’s reliance on the community and uplifting women-owned businesses in CNY and beyond.

The notion of supporting and nourishing a network of female leaders is central to Meghan Florkowski’s ethos as the director of the WISE Center. Florkowski, who has served in the role for just over two years, considers the center to be a connector between aspiring leaders and the rest of the world.

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The center, which was established in 2006, has grown and specified its approaches to business counseling in the midst of the pandemic.
Sophia Moore | Asst. Copy Editor

“Our community is multifaceted, so while they all might be women, aspiring or current business owners, their needs are unique. They’re coming from different places; they’re going to different places; They’re providing their business to the world in different ways,” Florkowski said. “So, the community (is) making sure it’s really all of us combined, and being able to truly reach them with the programs and services they need.”

Florkowski wears many hats as the director of the center. She is community-oriented in her leadership, especially when it comes to inviting volunteers to the center. Passionate, supportive individuals are important to building the network of WISE volunteers, Florkowski said.

She also recognizes how important the work of the WISE Center is in serving as a safe space for female entrepreneurs. Stone and Gradincic both emphasized the necessity of WISE as a resource meant for women as well. By creating groups of women supporting each other, a ripple effect occurs for all participants in WISE, Gradincic said, which is something unique and special, in her eyes.

Florkowski envisions a WISE Center that continues serving women and targets the specific needs of clients to ensure their success in the future.

“Our work really is truly to cater to the needs of the women in our community. So the ability to have an organization that’s focused on shaping programs that do so, that have the pulse of the community in mind us … to create high impact, targeted programs.” Florkowski said. “Anything that we do is to make sure that it’s truly going to benefit the women that we’re serving.”

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