“Not every woman can be a Bad Girl, and not every woman can start her own business,” Bad Girl Ventures founder Candace Klein explains.
Klein selects 10 area female entrepreneurs seasonally to participate in Bad Girl Ventures’ six-week course, where women who own start-up level businesses are coached on everything from accounting to marketing. BGV culminates with graduation and the awarding of a business loan—worth up to $150,000. Winners include Findlay Market's urban pet goods store, Pet Wants, and most recently Just Great Foods feeding tube formulas. With professional business courses and a hefty loan that might otherwise be impossible to receive, Bad Girl Ventures gives women the brains and brawn to take their businesses to the next level. But what exactly makes a girl, well, Bad?
“A Bad Girl is very specific woman," Klein explains. "She is a woman who is bold, brave, willing to think outside of the box; to do things in new, creative and innovative ways and to take a risk for what she believes in.”
Fitting this description to a T, Klein has accomplished more at age 30 than most people can cram into a lifetime. Though you’d never know it by looking at the impeccably-styled, charismatic and well-connected young woman, she came from humble beginnings as the daughter of a teenager living near the poverty level. An inspirational story in itself, Klein’s mother worked her way up the economic ladder at Procter & Gamble without a college education.
The inspiration from her mother helped Klein become the first in her family to go to college, obtaining five degrees from Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and her Juris Doctor from Chase College of Law. After working her butt off at NKU, Klein was ready to trade in Cincinnati winters for sunny beaches with plans to attend law school at the University of San Diego.
“I packed up my Geo Metro to drive across the country and in April 2003 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”
Klein was forced to put off law school and move in with her parents during treatment. All the money she saved up for tuition was used to pay her medical bills.
“At 23 I was dealing with the potential of death,” she recalls. “It was a bad year.”
Instead of just giving up, Klein took on a new motto: “Every day I’m alive, I need to live it to its fullest.”
While focusing on her health and working at the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Klein ended up connecting with NKU’s first woman appointed to the Board of Regents, Alice Sparks, who listened to her story. Impressed by Klein’s bold life goal (“I’m going to be governor in 2027,” Klein told her), Sparks offered to pay Klein’s law school tuition in full.
“I asked, ‘How can I repay you for this amazing gift?’” Klein recalls. “She said, ‘Find a way to invest in women.’ So I did.”
Helping women has been Klein’s passion ever since. In fact, as an attorney at Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP, she has 100 percent female clientele.
“I care deeply for every woman in my world,” Klein explains. So, naturally, when the economy crashed in 2008 and Klein’s clients stopped paying their legal bills, she wanted to know why the market affected her clients so profoundly.
Klein interviewed several major banks and venture capitalist companies about why they don’t invest in women. They revealed that female business owners were either not coming forward, had ill-conceived business plans or their growth strategies just weren’t aggressive enough.
Another reason bankers cited for not investing in women, and one reason why Bad Girl Ventures is so important, Klein says, is because across the board bankers agreed that women just don’t know how to make money.
Sure, we’ve graduated from the Mad Men era where a woman’s job consisted of keeping her boss’ ice box stocked. There are more female entrepreneurs now than ever before, but as Klein explains, “They want to change the world and do something for mankind, which is great. But when women walk into a bank and discuss their business, they never say ‘I’m doing this to make money.’”
Once Klein understood the problems women had finding loans, she discovered how she was going to repay Sparks.
Klein launched BGV in March 2010, thinking of it as a micro-lending fund where anyone can lend small amounts of money bunched together to create a significant loan. With an explosion of interest, she realized this was something bigger.
“I created a monster!” Klein exclaims. Within six months, she sifted through more than 100 women who applied to the classes for their chance at $25,000.
Just stepping into the classroom that Klein describes as “magical,” you can feel the electricity.
Since Klein makes sure none of the women are in competing industries, they’re comfortable sharing their business models and asking questions. And judging by the diversity in age, race and economic background, the classroom provides women with the opportunity to cross paths with like-minded ladies they might not otherwise meet.
The straightforward BGV application consists of four short questions about the proposed business, but it’ll take a lot more than a few paragraphs to catch Klein’s eye.
“They have to have that extra something, that fire in their belly,” she explains.
Application enrollment is currently open at www.badgirlventures.com.