Women’s Business Center
Mercy Corps Northwest hosts the only Women’s Business Center in Oregon, providing funds and other resources to help entrepreneurs become self-sufficient.
The WBC assists motivated individuals to improve their lives through starting or expanding a small business. We meet the unique needs of women entrepreneurs by providing microloans, matched savings, business training, and business counseling to help clients increase their economic self-sufficiency through self-employment. Our programs serve women, men, minorities and veterans.
We provide IDA matched savings grants to enable low income Oregonian families to build assets to make their businesses successful.
The Mercy Corps NW loan program provides needed capital to qualified individuals who cannot obtain traditional bank loans in Washington and Oregon. We are a nationally recognized microfinance organization and have been delivering small business loans since 2001.
The Women’s Business Center at Mercy Corps Northwest is directed by staff and a volunteer-led Advisory Committee which represents diverse backgrounds and experience and contribute to the success of our economic development programs.
New Business Spotlight
“We really stick together. I don’t feel like I’m out there on my own. We’re doing what we love,
getting by, and trying to have a good time.”
Carts: Not just for food anymore
Written by Mike Russell, Pivotal Writing
Photography by Juan Carlos Delgado, photojournalist
Since opening her thrift-clothing cart ‘Yours’, every Saturday has become ‘take your daughter to work day’ for Sonya Petroff. That suits her just fine.
“It’s good for [Hailey] to see me work for myself,” says Sonya. “It opens her eyes to her own potential. I talked about [Yours] for two years before it happened. For her to see me keep going through some hard times is important. That’s a positive example for her.”
Among those ‘hard times,’ Sonya lists self-doubt fueled by a lack of knowledge about how to start a business, finding the time to prepare, and saving up for opening expenses. “As a single, working parent, a storefront would have been impossible to afford while launching this business,” says Sonya. “The idea of opening a cart made it a possibility.”
Located in a pod of carts on 52nd and SE Foster, Yours blends Portland’s food-cart scene with Sonya’s passion for mining thrift stores’ collections of household treasures and unique, vintage clothing for men, women, and children. Between the 1966 Silver Streak trailer and the racks arranged in front, customers and curiosity seekers can peruse the product of Sonya’s love for locating the hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind.
“When I first had the idea I figured, ‘If the carts can sell food, why can’t I sell stuff?!’ Ever since then, I’ve been stockpiling; thank goodness our home has good storage space! Even Hailey’s room was filling up with boxes. We were really happy when we finally got to move most everything into Yours.”
Sonya worked hard to get to that proud moment. Without any entrepreneurs in her family, she didn’t know about the planning and preparation needed to launch a successful business. Furthermore, while her regular job made ends meet, she felt like she could never save enough to cover all of her opening expenses. Then, a friend told her about Mercy Corps NW’s Individual Development Account (IDA) matching grant program and Business Foundations course.
“For someone who could only save one to two thousand dollars, the IDA opened the door,” Sonya recalls. “And their Foundations course helped me through a ton of things I had not anticipated. I needed MCNW to help me with my business plan, taking care of all the paperwork, anticipating taxes, and all the other details of starting a business.”
Although she speaks with some authority now, Sonya admits, “The day I started at MCNW, I thought I was going to quit. They were encouraging, but they were also honest. They told us, ‘Starting your own business isn’t easy. It’s a lot of money. You have lots to figure out.’ I drew encouragement from the other people in class. We supported each other… I stuck through every class and got more confident every week going through all the steps.”
Some of that confidence is bound to rub off on Sonya’s 10-year-old daughter turned social-media assistant, “When Hailey gets older, she’ll have some excellent experience. Maybe she’ll try a business for herself. “
Although she has completed MCNW’s course, Sonya’s enthusiasm for community remains strong. For her, one of the most rewarding parts of running her own business is “Being a part of the community. Not just people who live nearby, but being a part of a food cart pod. We really stick together. I don’t feel like I’m out there on my own. We’re doing what we love, getting by, and trying to have a good time.”
Finding Sonya and Yours
Yours is located in the Food Cart Pod located at the intersection of SE 52nd ave. and Foster
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Mercy Corps NW is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the US Small Business Administration (SBA) All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.