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February 29, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Wells Fargo, U of Montana establish REAL Women Co-Lab

The new initiative will work to develop replicable models of service and research for promoting women entrepreneurs and leaders in rural communities throughout the U.S.

Wells Fargo and the University of Montana have joined forces to establish the Rural Entrepreneurship And Leadership Co-Lab for Women (REAL Women Co-Lab), described in this news release as a first of its kind in the nation program aimed at the challenges affecting women starting and growing businesses in rural America.

With a focus on national collaborations with institutional, civic, corporate and community partners, REAL Women Co-Lab will work to develop replicable models of service and research for promoting women entrepreneurs and leaders in rural communities throughout the U.S.

“Wells Fargo has supported multiple efforts for women’s entrepreneurship,” said Morgan Slemberger, Senior Director of the REAL Women Co-Lab. “Their funding will aim to find solutions for women accessing capital, which not only supports women, but it supports funders to better address the evolving needs of rural communities and their economies.”

Since 2020, women have created about half of new businesses filed in the U.S. up from about 29 percent previously, according to a 2023 U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship report. As women continue opening businesses, this initiative recognizes the importance of prioritizing rural communities across the nation and aims to address the growing need for solution-finding for rural economies.

“As the Bank of Doing, our goal is to strengthen the small business sector and empower as many entrepreneurs as we can,” shared Katie Rollyson, Philanthropy and Community Impact Lead Specialist at Wells Fargo. “We’re thrilled to partner with UM to launch the REAL Women Co-Lab because we know every business is unique, but there are common needs and characteristics based on where they stand in the business lifecycle as it evolves from an idea into a mature, thriving company.”

Accelerate Montana and UM spearheaded several grants supporting women in business statewide, including winning a 2020 Small Business Administration grant for a Women’s Business Center and being one of eight nationally to win a Google Impact for Women and Girls grant to support Native American women wanting to start businesses.


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