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From the Business Courier: Entrepreneurship's New Look: Inside Aviatra's Revamped Vision for Women Founders

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February 21, 2024/in News and Articles

We were honored to be profiled by journalist Liz Engel in the Cincinnati Business Courier. The article's text is included below.

A little over a year ago, Jill Morenz took the helm of Covington’s Aviatra Accelerators, one of the region’s longest-running startup and entrepreneurship support groups.

She dove in headfirst.

In the announcement marking her hire, she outlined a need to diversify the nonprofit’s revenue stream, to expand Aviatra’s reach regionally and beyond, and to better engage alumni (in its 14-year history, the organization has helped nearly 4,000 women).

Aviatra’s board signaled the hire would help usher in the organization’s next phase of growth.

Morenz said she started meeting “immediately” with entrepreneurs in the ecosystem – if tallying those conversations, they’d easily top 1,000 – to better understand their challenges and the support that’s needed.

A retooled Aviatra has since emerged.

Its mission is still to help women start and grow businesses, but it’s happening in a slightly different way. It’s more online forward. The nonprofit has opted to drop its long-running Explore program, a two-day in-person bootcamp for new entrepreneurs. The organization has rolled out a variety of new hybrid and virtual programs in response.

It’s also forgoing networking events. Why? It’s not a void Morenz sees in the region.

“There are a lot of organizations that do that really well,” she said. “We can do it with our own spin, but really, we didn't feel we were adding a lot of value.” 

It’s about building better networks, she said. Offering a safe space is also key. 

“In the last couple of years, women have been starting businesses at a much higher rate than men, and it's really important to support them,” Morenz said. “We need to help women feel that they are ready, but I want to focus on this feeling of abundance and acceptance. We can all survive and thrive and find our niche and support each other.” 

Morenz recently chatted with Cincy Inno to discuss all the changes Aviatra Accelerators has made.

Here’s a look at what’s new:

  • From Daydream to Launch: This on-demand online program is geared toward women who want to start businesses. Morenz said the class addresses a lot of basic questions that follow. Daydream kicked off in January, and three more modules are planned for this year. 

  • Fuel Your Startup: Fuel is for women whose businesses are between six months and two years old – too established for Daydream but not quite ready for Aviatra’s flagship accelerator, a 10-week in-person program. Fuel Your Startup is hybrid, with six live, once-a-week lunchtime Zoom sessions featuring subject-matter experts. The program wraps with an in-person celebration.

  • Capital-Ready Women: Capital-Ready Women, which launches online at the end of March, aims to help women entrepreneurs better access capital. The program starts with a free fundability assessment – that evaluation is being developed by Aviatra’s newly formed capital advisory group. The program culminates with a friendly introduction to lenders and/or investors “in a more relaxed, lower pressure” setting, Morenz said. In between, the program offers a deep dive into a founder’s business plan, brand story, investor pitch deck and more. “We know that women get to a point where they need money to grow, and this outside capital is critical for them,” Morenz said. “But it's hard to get, and it's a very intimidating process. This will help get them go after the money they need.”

  • Master Classes: These are one-day, in-person immersive classes that dive into critical topics needed for business growth (like public speaking, business finances and social media marketing). It launched in February and will be offered quarterly.

Also new to the fold is Aviatra’s monthly Real Talk for WOBs (women-owned businesses). Morenz said the offering has been transformational so far. Each meeting opens with a guided discussion. Then, several women take a turn in the "sweet seat" to share a challenge they’re having in their business. The group responds with ideas, feedback and support.

Sessions are held in Covington and Montgomery.

“Women need a trusted circle,” Morenz said. “They need a safe space for honest conversation among other entrepreneurs. Everybody signs an NDA (a non-disclosure agreement) for that session, and the women can talk freely about their struggles, or what they're wrestling with. To see that realization – that there is a supportive community out there, one that wants them to succeed and wants to help them and understands what they're going through – shows it's clearly needed.”

Aviatra also has rolled out its first membership program. Those who join can attend Real Talk sessions for free with additional access to Aviatra’s Monday morning accountability calls. Those are great check-ins, Morenz said, especially for solo entrepreneurs.

A new “Galentine’s Day Gala,” held last week, could serve as another signature fundraising event.

For 2024, Aviatra will continue to test out its new model. If it sticks, the next step would be to further expand the organization’s reach, Morenz said.

More virtual programming means it could easily have a more national reach.

“We now have something to offer everybody,” Morenz said. "As we grow, we want to be able to have an impact across the country."

Transcribed by Jill Morenz, President & CEO at Aviatra Accelerators

1 Comment

Congratulations on this great coverage! Such an important message to get out in the world.

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