SBA’s Women’s Business Center Consulting and SBA’s Emergency Capital Programs Helps Wild Hand Spin the Wheel of Success
Liz Sytsma is the owner of Wild Hand, a unique, community-oriented yarn and fiber shop based in the quaint Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. The business was started in 2018 and became a retail store in April 2019. Wild Hand serves as a gathering place for fiber enthusiasts and artisans, providing materials, education, and friendly support for all fiber projects, such as weaving, crochet, knitting, felting, spinning, dyeing, knotting, stitching, and fleece processing.
Sytsma first stepped into the world of entrepreneurship at 5 years old. She set up shop in her childhood home driveway, selling acorns and rocks at that she says were at “incredibly reasonable margins.” The entrepreneurial spirit carried into middle school, where she partnered with her father to offer stationery products to his work colleagues at the advent of the internet era. Throughout college, Sytsma also offered consulting services, leveraging her business school education.
She then started what is now known as CultureWorks, a multi-million-dollar nonprofit supporting the management of arts, heritage, and creative communities. While pregnant with her second child she thought, “maybe it’s time for a change,” and began exploring other options to satiate her passion for creativity and community building. Being a life-long fiber craftsperson led her to create Wild Hand, a supply shop for fiber folk.
In March of 2020, Sytsma hosted what would be her last in-store workshop, known as Fiber Folk Night, before the global pandemic caused businesses to close their doors. As she looked around her vibrant fiber shop, full of a diverse group of local community members, she struggled with her sense of responsibility as a business owner and community stakeholder. She, like many small business owners, closed her shop four days later, unsure when and if re-opening was on the horizon.
COVID-19 presented a wide array of both personal and professional issues for entrepreneurs. Sytsma experienced an increased sense of isolation when trying to navigate the varying business operations regulations. She found guidance through the Women’s Business Enterprise Center East, where she worked with a consultant to focus on business incubation. “Liz’s compassionate go-getter mentality combined with her professional experience allowed her to successfully pivot and sustain her business,” said Vanessa Chandler, Program Coordinator, Women’s Business Enterprise Center East.
In her consulting sessions, Sytsma received personalized advice on how to navigate the new business terrain. She found great value in having a consultant to bounce ideas off and identify gaps in her marketing strategy. These specialized, one-on-one no-cost consulting sessions provided by the Women’s Business Enterprise Center East resulted in a newly defined community commitment statement and the re-opening of her brick-and-mortar location.
SBA established the Women’s Business Center Program to better help women overcome continuing barriers to success. These centers, along with SBA district offices and other SBA resource partners at thousands of locations nationwide help women entrepreneurs start and grow successful businesses. Each Women’s Business Center tailors its services to the needs of its individual community. Each provides training in finance, management, marketing, and ecommerce, as well as offering access to SBA’s financial and procurement assistance programs.
Sytsma applied and received SBA’s COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). She also applied and received SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. “SBA’s emergency capital programs allowed me to meet payroll, pay rent, and pay my suppliers for materials and inventory expenses,” said Sytsma. “I also applied and have received SBA’s forgiveness for my PPP loan.”
She worked diligently to adapt her products and workshops to an e-commerce format. Luckily, her original business structure was organized to accommodate online transactions, making the transition more feasible. Sytsma received immense encouragement from her community of fiber folks, who happily signed up for virtual classes. Her adaptability allowed her to sustain sales and increase online sales from 5% to 50% by the end of 2020.
“It’s a privilege to recognize the achievements of women-owned Pennsylvania small businesses like Wild Hand. When the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, Liz reached out to her local Women’s Business Center on pivoting her business,” said Steve Dixel, SBA Eastern Pennsylvania District Director. “We are facing unique challenges together, and SBA’s EIDL and PPP emergency capital programs are vital to the existence of small businesses. Entrepreneurs like Liz continue to play a central role in building a stronger local economy. SBA and our resource partners are proud to play a role in helping them build back better.”
Wild Hand is a community that believes in the magic of fiber craft: to bring together people who share a vision of an imaginative and just world. Liz believes that the wellbeing of her fiber community — including the people, land, and animals that create the supplies she sells — is more important than anything else.
For Liz Sytsma, the pandemic has not stopped her business, instead, it only got the wheels spinning.