In this profile of WiSTEM C4 members, Barbara Provost talks about the financial empowerment network and platform she is building for women.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your personal history and background.
A: I grew up in Morton Grove, Illinois. I come from in a big Irish Catholic family, as I am one of thirteen children; number eleven for everyone who asks. We were raised to work hard, and we did. It shaped who we are as all of my sibs are very accomplished professionals. I skipped college and moved out at 18 to live on my own. I soon learned that I needed more schooling to compete with others who were advancing over me because they had a college degree. To that end, I enrolled in the community college and soon transferred to a four-year university. After almost seven years of putting myself through school part-time while I worked full-time and waitressing at night, I was a college graduate.
I was very successful in my studies (more than I anticipated) and soon enrolled and graduated from a Master’s Program in Business. I taught at the University level and fell in love with teaching and learning and soon enrolled and was accepted into a Doctoral program at NIU. Now, I was married, having babies and working full-time but I did accomplish this goal. I love creating engaging learning opportunities which led me to start my own business, Provost Consulting, which then led to the creation of my passion – Purse Strings.
Q: Tell us a little about your company. What’s your elevator pitch?
A: Data states (and women confirm) they are underserved by the insurance/financial industries — leaving this 14 trillion-dollar market lagging in their ability to have a bright financial future. Purse Strings educates women on how to make smart financial decisions. We also educate insurance and financial industries on what they must do differently to engage and earn the female dollar.
Q: How did you come to join the WiSTEM cohort?
A: My sister heard about this cohort on WGN and sent me the link. It was a godsend! I applied and was over-the-moon that I was accepted to this amazing program.
Q: What about the program do you think is helping your business the most? Are there any specific examples?
A: I am an expert in my business, but the financials were always a struggle. They are the foundation of any business and so I made it my goal to learn my financials; chapter and verse! Also, I needed to really poke at my business model to see if it is the right one. After talking it over with mentors, my cohort, and applying methodologies like the business model canvas, it helped me to gain more clarity.
Q: Where do you see your business at the end of the program, and what is your ultimate goal for your company after that?
A: I see Purse Strings 2.0! My goal is to be ready to prototype an application, engage a cofounder and start selling my products. Money helps so of course I am looking for an investor – but it really has to be the right one. I am looking for a person, or organization that believes in the mission of Purse Strings and is willing to work with me in partnership.
Q: What’s the greater good your company is trying to accomplish? How will it impact the community? What problem does it solve?
A: Women are a $14 trillion powerful market and growing. We are earning more degrees, advancing in the workplace and starting our own businesses, yet financial institutions have not done anything different to reach and engage this group. In fact, they continue to dismiss and ignore the needs of women and their financial future. Unfortunately, this has led to many women having to work past the age of retirement; women going into poverty after divorce or death of a spouse, or being financially dependent on their children.
Purse Strings will build a community where women can come and learn what they need to know to make smart financial decisions, in a safe and respectful environment. And, Purse Strings will educate the insurance and financial industry on what they need to do to earn the female dollar. Purse Strings is the bridge that connects women’s financial futures to the right insurance and financial agencies who are willing to make changes that will serve the female market and accelerate their business.
The ultimate goals are that woman will be able to enjoy their retirement, daughters will have their own independent plan for retirement, female college grads will start making future financial decisions with their first paycheck, and their daughters don’t have to worry about the financial needs of their mothers. Women are working with insurance / financial institutions to tell them what they want and need. In turn, these industries are accelerating their business!
Q: Give us a little insight into your perspective on diversity in the tech community. Why is it important? What do you hope to see?
A: Diversity breeds growth, in so many ways. We need to respectfully challenge each other to think differently, see differently, be different, so that our ideas and products don’t fail due to a narrow focus or limited thinking. We all have our entrepreneur babies that we don’t want anyone to mess with, but we must go through the process of exposure to different opinions, inputs, ideas and all before we can even know if we are providing what will serve the greater good!
Fourteen businesses made up the fourth cohort of WiSTEM, which is 1871’s innovative and customized program designed to accelerate and cultivate opportunities for women in technology. The 14 women-owned companies began the 12-week program beginning in March and participated in a showcase event where they pitched to investors, business leaders and supporters.