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WISE Women’s Business Center settles into new location in Axa Tower I

By Eric Reinhardt


Joanne Lenweaver, executive director of the WISE Women’s Business Center, stands in the organization’s new location in the lobby of Axa Tower I at 100 Madison St. in Syracuse. (Eric Reinhardt / BJNN)

SYRACUSE — The WISE Women’s Business Center has relocated to the lobby of Axa Tower I after operating at the nearby Tech Garden since 2012.

Axa Tower I is located at 100 Madison St. in Syracuse. An open house is planned for October, the WISE Center said in a release.

The WISE Center occupies half of a 3,000-square-foot space in Axa Tower I. It previously operated in a 1,000-square-foot space in the Tech Garden.

The WISE Women’s Business Center is a program of the Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship, housed in Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management. WISE stands for Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship.

The new space allows the WISE Women’s Business Center to remain downtown to offer its programming and to remain close to the Centro transit hub at 599 S. Salina St. and accessible for women who rely on public transportation.

“This couldn’t be better,” says Joanne Lenweaver, director of the WISE Women’s Business Center, who spoke to CNYBJ on Aug. 7.

Accessibility to those in underserved areas is a stipulation of its federal-grant funding, Lenweaver notes.

The Tech Garden, which is a program of CenterState CEO, didn’t renew the WISE Center’s lease, which ended last September, according to Lenweaver. The WISE Women’s Business Center remained on a month-to-month lease as it searched for a new space for operations. 

Elle Hanna, director of communications and media relations at CenterState CEO, said in a statement to CNYBJ, “About a year before WISE’s lease was set to expire, we approached Joanne Lenweaver and the WISE advisory board to discuss our preliminary plans for some long overdue capital improvements including a new entrance and more common space to accommodate the Tech Garden’s growing population of startups. We knew these improvements would impact the space WISE occupied, and given that they are an important partner in the work we do, we wanted to engage them and come to a solution that best fit the needs of everyone prior to any lease renewal. Among the solutions explored was alternative space for WISE within the Tech Garden, and a month to month arrangement once the lease expired to give them more time to find a space that best fit their needs. Ultimately, their board found such a space next door in AXA Towers, which is already leased by Syracuse University, one of WISE’s main funders. We remain grateful to have strong partners like WISE as they do important work supporting our innovation ecosystem and the region’s entrepreneurs,” said Hanna. 

Lenweaver says she looked at 20 properties over the course of a year in her search for a new space.

The organization moved to its new space on July 24 and began operations there July 30. 

Lenweaver is one of two full-time employees at the WISE Women’s Business Center. The organization also has three independent contractors.

The WISE Women’s Business Center offers free, confidential business counseling and organizes networking events, including the annual WISE Symposium with “high-profile” speakers and weekly roundtable discussions where women business owners “share advice and support,” according to an Aug. 3 statement from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) congratulating the organization on its move to a new space.

The WISE Women’s Business Center is one of more than 100 women’s business centers funded by the SBA, the agency said.

Available space

Lenweaver learned of the available space in early July.

M.I.N.D. lab, a program of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, has operated in the space for the past five years. M.I.N.D. is short for Media Interface and Networking Design. 

Some changes in grants and staffing prompted the Newhouse School to consider its use of space in the Axa Tower, according to Lenweaver. 

“Maybe [M.I.N.D. lab] didn’t need 3,000 square feet [for operations in the Axa Tower I],” she adds.

At the time, the WISE Women’s Business Center had been considering another space in the same building “down the hall,” but was asked if it would consider sharing the space with the M.I.N.D. lab, and Lenweaver said it would. 

The WISE Women’s Business Center is using the space through a co-agreement between the Whitman and Newhouse schools, says Lenweaver.

About WISE

WISE was established more than 10 years ago, evolving from the Falcone Center’s WISE Symposium, launched 16 years ago as a single-day event. The goal was to educate women on their options for growing and/or starting a small business. The annual event, which has featured such speakers as Barbara Corcoran from ABC’s Shark Tank, grew to nearly 1,000 attendees. 

“After four years, participants wanted more,” according to the news release. Some of those attending the event started asking for additional help.

“Now what do I do? Where would I go to ask questions?” Lenweaver recalled.

In 2006, the Whitman School secured a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to establish the WISE Women’s Business Center. To date, it has provided more than 10,000 hours of entrepreneurship counseling and training for women, “particularly those who are underserved.”

“Our congratulations to center director Joanne Lenweaver for her vision and courage to take the WISE Women’s Business Center to the next level. SBA has supported the WISE Women’s Business Center with over $1.5 million in grant funds since it was established in 2006. We look forward to seeing WISE continue to serve women entrepreneurs from the heart of downtown Syracuse,” Bernard J. Paprocki, SBA Syracuse district director, said in a statement that the SBA issued Aug. 3.

The WISE Center had operated in the Tech Garden since 2012, after having operated its first six years at the South Side Innovation Center.        

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