Salem’s Center for Women in Business has decided it’s time to adjust its name and go with the “Flow.”
Through the generosity of Don Flow, CEO of Flow Automotive, and his wife Robbin, the Salem College Center for Women in Business and Entrepreneurship will occupy a prime space on the third floor of the former GMAC tower in downtown Winston-Salem.
Flow, who recently purchased the downtown high rise, offered to cover the lease commitment, up-fitting, and operations of the 1000-square-foot office space at 500 West 5th for two years while the Center works to secure an ongoing source of funding.
Don and Robbin Flow said they had a joint desire to provide the women of Salem with the opportunity to be part of an entire floor dedicated to entrepreneurial activity involving local colleges.
“I’m confident it will be a great experience of the Salem students,” Don Flow said.
The generous donation from the Flow family is the fruition of a vision Alyson Francisco has had since she came to Salem in 2011.
“We are creating an exciting new space where our students can stretch, network and grow – and ultimately fulfill their promise as young businesswomen and entrepreneurs,” said Francisco, Mary Ardrey Stough Kimbrough Chair In Business And Economics and Director of the Center for Women in Business and Entrepreneurship.
The founding of a Center for Women in Business was approved by Salem’s Board of Trustees in 2001, but according to Francisco, there was never an actual space designated to go with it.
“For the past seven years, the Center for Women in Business has been my office,” she laughed.
But that never stopped the center from thriving. Francisco regularly takes students to workshops and networking events in Wake Forest’s downtown Innovation Quarter and Salem has its share of success participating in events like Start-Up Weekend Labs where like-minded, entrepreneurial types come up with business ideas, conduct market research, and develop a working prototype, all over the course of one weekend. They then present their business ideas to a panel of judges on Sunday evening, Shark Tank-style.
“We actually won the Fall 2017 Tech Stars Triad Startup Weekend,” Francisco said.
Shortly after that win, Salem began to research options and administrators decided to let the general public know about the interest in a downtown presence for its business center. The initial options for a new space proved to be cost-prohibitive, however.
Any Salem student who has ever taken a class from Francisco would be quick to tell you that one of the key takeaways learned in her class is that there is always another way.
When Francisco discovered that Don Flow was acquiring the space and that he was interested in giving back to the community, she hoped she had found that other way.
“I ran into Don and I told him I really wanted to move our center there,” she recalled. “He looked at me and then he just asked ‘What would it take to get you there?’ And the rest is history.”
From the very beginning, Flow’s vision for his building was going to involve a lot more than a headquarters for his auto dealerships.
His vision is to “fill the building with vitality and young people who want to start companies, who want to take risks, and want to imagine a different future,” Flow told the Winston-Salem Journal. He added that he hoped to retain some of the 60,000 college students in the Triad by offering a new “place to come work, a place to start companies and a place to imagine the future.”
Salem Academy and College President Sandra J. Doran said that the space at 500 West 5th is a perfect fit for Salem.
“One of our roles in society is to help women find their voice, find their passion, and actualize it,” she said. “Our new space in downtown Winston-Salem will be an incubator for our students to do just that.”