Empowering Women Entrepreneurs: ATHENAPowerLink Orlando and Crummer’s Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship

In the landscape of business ownership, women are not just participants; they are architects of change, wielding influence and reshaping industries in profound ways. Yet, despite strides toward gender equality, the journey for women as business owners is still fraught with obstacles. That’s why ATHENAPowerLink’s mission is to empower female business owners for success and guide them into making their businesses more sustainable and profitable overall. The Orlando chapter is in partnership with Crummer’s Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship. The center provides grants, participates on their board, gets applicants for them, and more.  

Setting women entrepreneurs up for success is all about individualization and catering to a company’s specific needs. ATHENAPowerLink Orlando provides each business with a panel of experts, personalizing who is on the panel based on a firm’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities. The panel acts almost as a board of directors for the business. The participant agrees to a one-year commitment and meets with the panel every month, reviewing their goals and accomplishments for the last 30 days, providing a line of accountability for their business.   

ATHENAPowerLink Orlando also only accepts women-owned companies if they have been in operation for two years, if their revenues in the previous fiscal year were at least $500,000, and if they have two full-time employees (one can be the business owner). A firm needs to be prime for growth and profitable enough to have the resources to invest in the company to better its future.   

For Judi Awsumb, Marni Spence, and Christi Lawson, the co-chairs of ATHENAPowerLink Orlando, it’s more than just a helpful organization, it’s a passion. Assisting women business owners “has been the highlight of my life,” says Judi. “It’s what I love to do, to help women grow their businesses.” In 2010, Judi created an innovative way of tracking success. She started creating a detailed, prioritized business plan focusing on all areas of any enterprise including human resources, sales/marketing, financials/operations, and legal for every participant. The plans are reviewed and updated quarterly and annually and adjusted as needed. “We’ve achieved success because we measure it,” Judi says. And success is something they certainly have. Participants see their businesses grow in revenue by an average of 32% by completing the year-long program. Judi’s detail-oriented, success-driven, accountability-focused approach has worked well for all the companies who have been part of ATHENAPowerLink Orlando, and they are proud to be a part of Athena International. 

Christi enjoys encouraging women to work on their business not in their business, pulling them out of the day-to-day minutia and allowing them to see the big picture. “It’s about helping women gain the confidence in themselves to see that they can do this. But they have to be willing to take some risks and put themselves out there to really grow,” she says. “You really see them evolve over the year.” Christi sees her own involvement in the organization as a win-win. She learns from the other panel experts and hears advice that she can then apply to her own business. Plus, having the network of women-led businesses that support each other “is amazing.”  

The biggest impacts, however, are for the participants. After finishing Crummer, Tugce Agsak ‘03MBA started working as an engineer, designing commercial cooling and heating systems as well as plumbing, fire protection, and electrical. She decided to start her own engineering firm, Tags Engineering, with the idea of thinking of the end users, trying to make a difference in MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) engineering. “We don’t see the buildings as just walls. We see them as a place where people can thrive,” she says. One fortuitous day, she received an email from ATHENAPowerLink Orlando, inviting her to apply to their program. After being interviewed and discussing her company’s financials, she was accepted two weeks later. 

Tugce soon realized that the panel was more than just a mentorship; she could discuss any type of problem or any topic she could think of with the industry experts at the table. She also noted how personalized the experience was and how they were able to address all her challenges and opportunities. “They helped me make informed decisions and navigate the complexities of day-to-day operations while also looking at the big picture of the business.” They also offered training workshops, resources, networking opportunities, seminars, and social gatherings. Tags Engineering grew financially as well as with their operations. Tugce implemented better standards, core values, and goals within the company to have herself and all employees working in the same direction. “We moved to become a healthier smaller business,” she says.  

With multiple panels going at the same time for ATHENAPowerLink Orlando, they can impact several participants per year, like Olive Gaye ‘09MBA. After thirteen years of being in the aviation industry, Olive took a huge risk—she left her job and went out on her own, starting a new company called GenCare. She had always been mentored and cared for by the elderly, and she wanted to give something back. So she started her business focusing on home health care with dignity and respect. While Olive began her work with seniors, she realized that to be sustainable she needed to branch out. That’s when she reached out to ATHENAPowerLink Orlando. It turned out to be a gamechanger for Olive and GenCare. 

Before she started the ATHENA experience, Olive’s company was growing slowly, but as she implemented the advice from her panel, GenCare began to take off and experience strong growth. “They really held your hand to the fire,” Olive says about the accountability of the program. “They helped me with the foundation I needed to grow bigger than originally planned.” And grow they did. GenCare has expanded to have several divisions in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Brevard counties, and they now provide care for anyone of any age. 

But the mentorship element doesn’t end at the completion of the year. After women graduate from the ATHENAPowerLink program, they stay connected with the network. Some even grow enough to join CEO Nexus Women Entrepreneurs, a roundtable CEO group with a criterion of doing $1M in business, founded by Judi Awsumb. Both Tugce Agsak and Olive Gaye are members. Judi is thrilled to see more women CEOs succeed: “It’s a joy to see all the employees they hire as they scale. It adds to the tax basis and adds to our community in a positive way.”   

Indeed, investing in women in business is not just helpful for the individual, but it benefits our whole economy. By providing women with the resources, support, and opportunities they need to succeed, we not only unlock their full potential but also foster economic growth, innovation, and social progress. Investing in women in business isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s a strategic move that benefits everyone involved. 

If you are interested in learning more about ATHENAPowerLink Orlando you can visit their website or email Daniel Perez with the Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship at dfperez@rollins.edu.