Pathway Lending opened in 1999 as an economic development agency, with a goal of increasing access to capital for businesses in Tennessee. Based in Nashville, Pathway first teamed with Regions Bank in 2000, allowing the agency the ability to reach further into Tennessee and Alabama while focusing on underserved target markets.

“Fast-forward 15 years,” said Clint Gwin, Pathway Lending President. “We expanded our relationship with Regions when we launched our Women’s Business Center, and Regions became our title sponsor.”

Now, the Pathway Women’s Business Center focuses on training, education and peer learning to accelerate growth. From the start, the WBC saw success through in-depth business counseling and classroom training.

“The very first year the Pathway Women’s Business Center was open, we helped women start 22 companies,” said Amy Bunton, President of the WBC. “To me, that’s an incredible first year. They’re not only open, now they’re thriving and generating income.”

For Jim Schmitz, the Middle Tennessee Area President for Regions Bank, the partnership was an investment in the future. Studies pointed specifically to how the “future of America” would look, with the vast majority of wealth held by households headed by women.

Regions could play a role by providing advice, guidance and education to budding entrepreneurs. And the return in investment would be enjoyed by everyone.

“I care about this community.” Schmitz said. “I’m out in this community a lot with many different organizations. The pats on the back and the signs of appreciation we get from people who may not be directly affiliated with this initiative is really gratifying.”

Resources offered by the Women’s Business Center include access to capital, marketing and communications help, online courses, and a game plan for starting a new business.

The mentoring and experience made a believer out of Dr. Luisa F. Leal, who runs the New Horizon Diabetes Clinic.

“Many of us (initially) believe it’s not possible. We have support from a financial company that guides you by the hand and says, ‘Yes, you can do it.’ We just have to work these steps to get it done,” Leal said.

For Bunton, the joy is seeing new businesses begin to thrive.

“The businesses that we are helping makes it all worthwhile,” she said. “You want to get up and do it again the next day.”

For Schmitz and the Regions associates who participate, the feeling is mutual.

“It makes you feel good to work for a company that really believes that – not just give it lip service — but actually puts the time, effort and resources behind it to make a difference in the community.” Schmitz said. “It’s just an example of how we are doing more.”

See the WBC’s full story in the video above.