Member Profile

Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network

This brief history of WREN captures some of the highlights of our work, reflective of our mission “to inspire, create and connect through economic, educational, personal and community development.”

Powered by rural women seeking better lives and livelihoods, WREN’s work has impacted thousands of people across New Hampshire’s North Country since 1994. WREN’s initial project assisted a dozen low-income women in realizing their dreams of business ownership. These WREN pioneers became the first members of what is now known as the WREN Community. As an emerging community, and a year later, as a nonprofit, we focused on providing these members with technology training, business development expertise, peer networks for support and market opportunities for their enterprises’ services and products. 

Over the next four years, we continued to offer entrepreneurial training and support to an additional seventy five women. We also launched the WINGS (Women Invested In Girls’ Success) program for girls ages eight to twelve, which enlisted women involved with WREN to teach and mentor girls in a variety of arts-making activities and field trips. Several of these girls are now second generation WREN members and entrepreneurs. 

In 1999, WREN moved its operations to Bethlehem’s then desolate Main Street. We took the leadership role in founding a condominium association with two other building tenants to purchase a block of storefronts. We assisted our condo neighbor, the emerging Cold Mountain Cafe, in developing a business plan, securing capital and the launch of what is now one of the North Country’s most popular restaurants. In 2000, we secured HUD funding to purchase and reconfigure two of the units, enabling us to create space for administrative offices, class and meeting rooms, a public technology center, The Gallery at WREN and our Local Works retail store. WREN has played a significant role in revitalizing the town, often in partnership with the Colonial Theatre and other arts-based entities that have emerged in recent years.  

By 2001, in addition to securing grant funding from a number of regional funders, we drew financial support from the Ms. Foundation, the Aspen Institute, USDA/Rural Development and HUD. WREN also gained recognition within the national microenterprise development sector for our innovative efforts in addressing the need for greater market access for rural entrepreneurs. We began generating an increasing portion of our operating budget from earned income - membership fees, class offerings and our social enterprise operations - an income stream that now contributes a significant portion of our annual revenue.   

That same year WREN began publishing the WRENzine as a vehicle to share information with and about our members. Now published three times a year, the magazine is a highly acclaimed publication that offers members the opportunity to write feature articles showcasing their businesses. It also includes class and event listings, and competitively priced advertising for our members. Read by over 1200 households and businesses, members consider it one of the most important assets of their membership. It also serves as one of our key marketing tools. 

In 2006, the organization expanded operations with the purchase of our WREN Central building on Bethlehem’s Park Avenue, now housing our administrative offices, providing public access to technology tools, and members with business incubator space. With funding from the Ms. Foundation, WREN landscaped a vacant lot next to our Main Street store to function as a seasonal market space for farmers and craftspeople. In 2008, we extended our retail operations to include the Local Works Gallery, located in the lobby of the historic Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, NH. Currently, over 350 WREN members sell their art work and products in our two retail stores and gallery. These marketplaces have generated over $1,000,000 in sales, with 60% going to our members.  

In 2007, we developed our BETA (Business & Entrepreneurial Technical Assistance) program, integrating the nationally known Core Four business curriculum with business coaching and networking. To date, 246 North Country residents have graduated from the program.  

Last year, after purchasing and renovating a storefront in the city of Berlin, we launched the WREN Works Maker Studio, a collaborative co-working space. This supported environment offers access to tools, computers, internet, mentors, training, and education, and a place for inter-generational community collaboration and networking events. WREN also operates the Local Works Farmers Market in Berlin. This outdoor marketplace is a critical community asset in an area designated as a ‘food desert’, as well as a market opportunity for local entrepreneurs and food producers within the region.  

Today, WREN has over one thousand members and includes those near and far, women and men, ranging from millennials to the retired. We continue to play a major role in the vibrancy and economic development of two New Hampshire Main Streets, in Bethlehem and Berlin. 

Staying true to our roots, WREN is a women-led organization guided by a committed and engaged Board of Directors comprised of fifteen diverse and talented women. We look forward to welcoming and working with our third executive, as we continue to harness innovation, experience, creativity, and passion in pursuit of better lives and livelihoods and community engagement.

Posted on: Friday, March 18, 2016

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