Nonprofit helps entrepreneurs start small businesses

Just a few years ago, Brittani Bass Pitre was working out of her apartment, building a clientele for her facial and beauty business when she decided it was time to decide her next step.

“It came to a point that I had to decide: Am I going to keep it small scale or give it a go?” she said.

Pitre opted to “give it a go” and, for the past four years, has operated her business, O2, a boutique spa in Lafayette’s Oil Center. She credits the help she received from the Enterprise Consortium of the Gulf Coast Women’s Business Center for helping her take the leap.

The center is a nonprofit organization founded five years ago to help women start small businesses through legal and consultant services at no charge, said Heather Broussard, the center’s executive director. The center’s services are open to anyone, regardless of gender, she said.

For Pitre, the center provided her new business an extra boost.

“There’s only so much you can learn from textbooks as far as starting a business,” said the LSU graduate who holds a bachelor’s degree in business and started O2 at age 25.

The center helped create her business’ website and provided training in Quickbooks accounting software. The training and website saved her a few thousands dollars, she said.

“Even a few thousand (dollars) when you’re starting out is a lot,” Pitre said. “It helped me tremendously do the things that I couldn’t have done in the beginning. It saved me money and probably saved my business.”

Broussard said the center has assisted 852 clients in the eight-parish Acadiana area in the past five years.

“We provide everything from business plan development, marketing, Web design, financial advising — learning how to use Quickbooks, developing budgets, making spreadsheets,” Broussard said. “Everything they would want to know to start their own business.”

Start-up nonprofit organizations are among the center’s clients, such as the Aphasia Center of Acadiana, Broussard said.

The center operates under a Small Business Administration grant and other grant support. It recently received nearly $15,000 in grants from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas and its member institutions: American Bank & Trust Co., Home Bank, IBERIABANK and St. Martin Bank & Trust Co.

The grants are made available through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas’ Partnership Grant Program, which supports community initiatives. This year, the program awarded $225,000 in grants, according to FHLB Dallas. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas matches its member institutions’ contributions.

The Gulf Coast center is one of two women’s business centers supported by the SBA in the state, Broussard said. The women’s business center programs were created to support entrepreneurs, she said.

“So many women have these successful dreams, but didn’t know which direction to go in or how to get started,” Broussard said. “Once they get a little bit of assistance, they can really take off and do amazing things.”