WBDC, First Niagara combine for Opportunity Fund
Started with $10,000 First Niagra grant: Program benefits budding entrepreneurs
When Monique Wilson graduated from massage therapy school four years ago, she didn't imagine she would be an example for budding entrepreneurs.
Wilson, owner of Oasis Therapeutic Massage for Wellness in Norwalk, is one of four beneficiares of the Stamford-based Women's Business Development Center's Opportunity Fund, which was created with a $10,000 grant provided by First Niagara Bank.
A Norwalk resident, Wilson graduated from WBDC's FastTrac New Venture Program in April, maintaining a perfect attendance record and completing her business plan. As a result, she was awarded a business technology grant, through which she received a Dell laptop.
"Completing the FastTrac program was a very empowering experience for me. It was pretty intense. It made you step out of your comfort zone," Wilson said, adding that having the laptop expands her business possibilities. "I plan to take my business on the road. WBDC is a very good resource. I don't feel like I'm out there all alone."
Wilson has developed a list of repeat clients and is busy despite a sluggish economy.
"My clients are people with high stress levels," she said. "It (massage therapy) is competitive. You have to find your niche. I often work with people with sports injuries and back problems."
Wilson, who will mark her first year as operator of Oasis Therapeutic in October, was one of four entrepreneurs selected for the grant. The others requested anonymity, said Fran Pastore, WBDC chief executive officer.
"A $750 laptop is really going to make a difference for our clients," she said, crediting First Niagara for furnishing the funds to establish the fund.
The relationship grew out of the WBDC's connection with New Alliance Bank, which First Niagara acquired in April.
"This investment from First Niagara illustrates very clearly the bank's commitment to community," Pastore said.
Wilson exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit that communities need, said Paul McCraven, First Niagara senior vice president, community development. "Helping customers achieve their personal and professional dreams is what First Niagara is all about, and we see our investment in WBDC's Opportunity Fund as another way to do that."
To learn more about the fund, contact Marian Cicolello online at Mcicolello@ctwbdc or by calling 203-353-1750. Wilson's wellness center is located at 152 East Avenue in Norwalk.