Thursday, May 6, 2010 | 4:04 p.m.
An assiduous advocate for small-business owners and entrepreneurs, Anna Siefert – project director for the Las Vegas-based Nevada Women’s Business Center – began volunteering at the nonprofit Nevada Microenterprise Initiative in 1994, and was instantly struck by the organization’s objective.
“I started as a volunteer, and fell in love with NMI’s mission to assist small and micro-businesses and to enhance the economic self-sufficiency and quality of life for low- to moderate-income individuals through entrepreneurial training, technical assistance and access to loans for new and expanding businesses throughout the state of Nevada,” said Siefert, who has some 30 years of experience as the owner of three businesses of her own. “I volunteered with NMI until late 1995, then went part-time as paid staff as a business advisor, then in 1999 took on a full-time position as a loan manager and business technical assistant. I became project director for the Women’s Business Center in 2003.”
Hosted by the NMI through the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Women’s Business Center mirrors the objective of NMI, but its focus is on women entrepreneurs in Nevada.
“WBC helps potential and existing women business owners grow their businesses in the right way, and gives them the tools and resources they need to operate and expand,” said Siefert, adding that there are 114 such centers throughout the United States, all under the U.S. Small Business Administration. “We offer business counseling, workshop training and access to experts in the key functional areas. Many woman business owners are challenged in terms of access to capital and contracts, but the government has set aside contracts for women business owners, so we help them through the certification process. WBC as a program gives us the opportunity to really reach out to women business owners in the community, rather than lumping them in with everything else.”
Siefert said the NMI serves 900 to 1,100 individuals per year in Nevada, of which about 58 percent are women.
Besides being a proponent for women entrepreneurs in Nevada, Siefert is also particularly committed to helping microenterprises, which are defined as businesses with five or fewer employees and often lack access to conventional loans, equity or other banking services. Whereas a small business is typically defined as a company with a workforce of up to 500 individuals, Siefert said the small-business sector includes microenterprises, which she considers unfortunate.
“There is a huge difference in size,” said Siefert, whose Michael Graham Entrepreneurial Spirit Award is given jointly by the Graham family and the Nevada Small Business Development Center in honor of former UNLV SBDC Director Michael Graham in recognition of an individual or organization that consistently demonstrates a commitment to fostering and promoting entrepreneurial activities among Southern Nevadans. “I am truly trying to educate the public, because microenterprises are so small nobody listens to them, yet within the small-business sector, 85 percent are micro-businesses.”
Indeed, Siefert said that according to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity – a national membership association committed to microenterprise development – in 2007 there were 210,000 small businesses in Nevada with zero to 500 employees, and of that total, 193,000 were micro-businesses.
“My whole mission is to make sure people know that microenterprises are capable of delivering products and services if they are just given a chance,” Siefert said.