Mentors of the first-ever Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training gave protegees advice, guidance and the benefit of their experience during the program's first year.

More importantly, veteran woman business owners lent moral support to the fledgling business owners."Sometimes we didn't talk business," said protegee Hydee Willis, owner of Creative Expressions. "We talked more about emotional stress situations and worked out ways between the two of us to help alleviate stress in our own lives."

Willis was one of seven protegees who participated in the inaugural Utah WNET program, which paired successful women business owners with women who have owned their businesses at least one year.

For the past year, mentors have met periodically with their protegees to help them strengthen their business skills, expand their businesses and become successful employers. The ultimate goal of the program is to enhance the state's economy.

Kathy Ricci, executive coordinator of the WNET program and business consultant at the Utah Small Business Development Center, said the program provides new business owners a tremendous resource.

"They need to realize what an opportunity they have in front of them. We have many many people apply to be protegees, but we can only pick a handful because we have a limited number of mentors. They can't just say `OK, help me,' " Ricci said.

As the program enters its second year, Ricci is seeking volunteer mentors. Mentors must be female, the chief executive officers or founders of their own businesses and have been a CEO or owner for at least five years. Applicants must be willing to serve as a mentor for at least one year.

On the whole, Ricci said the program was a success in its first year, despite its demands on mentors and protegees. "The failures are mostly related to human nature. It's difficult to pair people up and tell them `OK, be friends,' " Ricci said.

Marilyn Tang, owner of Certified Interior Systems, said it is sometimes difficult for new business owners to take seriously the advice of older, more experienced business owners.

But Tang said she helped convince her protegee, Janeen Amicone, not to buy a building in which to house the machine shop she co-owned with her brother.

Amicone has since left the family business but is working as a purchasing agent for MONROC Inc.

"My overall review would be people who are just getting started in business need to learn to take advice from older people," Tang said.

Success Kids' owner Shirley Backles said she developed a friendship and business relationship with protegee Hydee Willis, owner of Creative Expressions, an embroidery arts business.

The woman have developed a product that utilizes Backles' skill in building self-esteem in children and Willis' art talents. "Heidi is a very creative person and self-esteem is my passion so it's a great combination," Backles said.

Financial planner Linda Smerenoff-Jensen of BJC & Associates, says she helped her protegee, Jeannie Kidd of Sundance Mortgage Fund Inc., work through concerns about cash flow and employee management. "I'm a financial planner so the cash-flow part was easy," said Smerenoff-Jensen. After dozens of years in business, Smerenoff-Jensen knew a thing or two about employee-employer relationships.

"I also helped her to recognize she needs to take time for herself. We're (women) the caretakers. She needed to get some balance in her life because she has eight or nine children," Smerenoff-Jensen said.

Smerenoff-Jensen also introduced Kidd to other women business owners, who she hopes can also assist her. "We need to have people we can talk to and someone we can feel safe with," Smerenoff-Jensen said.


(Additional information)

For more information about the Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training or to volunteer to be a WNET mentor, call Kathy Ricci at the Utah Small Business Development Center, 581-4869. The deadline for applications is May 24.