SABRA STAFFORD/209 Business Journal
The Valley Sierra Small Business Development Center hosted the Business Women’s Symposium, which featured Save Mart CEO Nicole Pesco as the keynote speaker.

With offices in Modesto and Merced, the Valley Sierra Small Business Development Center is, literally, in the business of helping businesses.

The goal of the organization is to work with small businesses and entrepreneurs with a concentration in promoting those businesses to help them grow and succeed.

Serving as Director is Katy Winders, named to that position earlier this year after having spent four years with the organization.

“It’s about economic development, helping our communities,” Winders said. “We are federally funded, non-profit. We offer two main things; no cost consulting for businesses and we also offer trainings that include events like our recent Business Women’s Symposium.”

That symposium, in November, brought together some high-powered local businesswomen to share their experiences and offer insight and guidance to attendees.

“It was our fourth year,” Winders added of hosting the symposium geared specifically toward women in business. “The goal is to inspire, educate and promote professional growth.”

In tallying up results from a survey regarding the symposium, Winders said 97 percent of the attendees said they would come back again.

“It was very positive feedback, it was exceptional,” Winders said.

The symposium featured three keynote speakers touching on topics including personal branding and how to present yourself in person and digitally; a discussion regarding how women need to work together and support each other; and a focus on advancement in the workplace, how to move from lower wage jobs as women into positions in management.

Claudia Newcorn, who serves as the lead marketing consultant for SBDC, was one of the keynote speakers and tackled the topic of ‘branding’ that is crucial in today’s business world.

“We felt women needed the opportunity to come and be inspired by other women,” Newcorn explained of the reasoning behind the Business Women’s Symposium, noting that other events seemed geared toward men or mixed gender audiences. “We weren’t sure how it was going to go but it blew up, it sells out every year.”

She added that there are “tangible results” coming out of the symposium, with survey feedback indicating that the information and networking are well worth the investment in attending.

While the annual Business Women’s Symposium is one of the most popular events, there are also other ways they work with businesses throughout the region.

Among them is the vast array of consultants – more than 30 – available to assist business owners at all levels.

“Say if someone has an invention, we have an inventor on staff to help walk them through the process,” Winders said. “We have a social media expert; we have an HR rep that can help in writing an employee handbook.”

Whatever questions need to be answered, whatever assistance is needed, it’s likely the SBDC can help.

“Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and Mariposa, we serve those four counties,” Winders explained. “We walk people through what they need to start a business. For those that are already in business we offer them marketing help, aid in creating a strategic plan, work on financing assistance.”

“The Small Business Development Center works literally with hundreds of companies every year,” Newcorn added. “We are the best kept secret out there.”

Information is available at, including a list of consultants, upcoming events, how to access services and more.

“We have a lot of success stories,” Newcorn said. “We help companies grow and thrive.”

The Modesto office is at 1625 I St., Modesto; 209-422-6416; the Merced office is at 1735 M St., Suite 111, Merced; 209-386-1008.