AccelerateHER®’s JuniperHER Project Empowers Women Entrepreneurs

by Ryan Miller

By Ryan Miller

Web-Based JunipHER Project Aims To Give Women Entrepreneurs The Support, Training And Empowerment They Need To Bridge The Earnings Gap

As legend has it, the juniper branch served as a symbol of protection and encouragement as it accompanied travelers withstanding adversity on enduring journeys. You won’t see many business owners reach for a juniper branch today when faced with challenges, but you will, however, see them reach out to JunipHER.

The JunipHER Project is a web-based growth accelerator for mid-stage women business owners, providing a year of support and training while addressing specific issues that women face as entrepreneurs. The project stems from AccelerateHER®, a women’s business development organization that strives to create an environment that fosters success and empowerment but focuses on solid business practices.

The James City County company was founded in 2011 by CEO Zee Worstell, who was later joined by COO Francine Spinelli. The JuniperHER Project launched in 2016. Alarmed by the inequality in numbers of women earning 79 percent less than men in the same industry, Worstell desired to minimize the stiffened revenue earnings of women-owned businesses, beginning with business education. “I have two daughters, and that was the motivating factor for me,” shares Worstell. “If I can help them figure out and see someone else making more than the norm then I could impact a whole generation of women.”

JunipHER’s one-year training program focuses on issues women face that the company has identified based on their research as well as other documented resources revealing the same issues behind the earnings gap. The first issue they’ve recognized is the need to empower women by helping them realize that they are leaders of companies that can support and employ others and build an economy.

The program also provides a strong support component with role models they can look to for inspiration. In stark contrast to men, they’ve found women often lack a support system for their business leadership. “We work on getting them comfortable, meeting people and understanding this is the vision for my company,” Worstell says.

The other issue they’ve recognized for women-owned businesses is financial understanding. JunipHER helps women learn how to use their numbers, set their prices and get comfortable with the story the numbers are telling them so they can manage more efficiently and effectively.

AccelerateHER Helps Women with Earnings Gap

Specifically, Worstell indicates that the training commonly helps a group of women known as the Missing Middle, who make over $150,000 but less than a million dollars annually and aren’t receiving the necessary support or setting the right goals for what they are capable of accomplishing. They’ve recognized that women commonly look to how big of an impact they can make on their community or family but haven’t been looking toward their own success in earnings. “We work with them on how to do a strategic growth plan,” Worstell explains. “Most women just kind of toil away in their business and don’t think bigger about where [they] want to go, and the business runs them as opposed to them running the business.”

All of the training is done through JunipHER’s online tools, including their own .net platform that hosts training lessons with videos, audio, assignments, worksheets and a mixture of other content broken into chapters. Supplementing this is a monthly videoconference support call with classes of 10 to 12 where they get to know each other better, ask questions and discuss issues. Each is given an accountability partner to communicate with weekly, as well as a chat platform with prompt questions. Content is dripped over a year in an arranged order to work on first things first and then built from that point onward as they absorb the material.

As an online resource, the outreach is limitless to location and profession. “We’ve covered the gamut; we’ve had women in all different industries,” states Worstell. AccelerateHER® also works with other programs for further development, including Modern Femme and Launchpad, Greater Williamsburg Incubator.

The results of the project’s success are demonstrated by those same numbers Worstell wished to change. Women in the program have seen their business’ office space increase 225 percent in square footage (as many begin out of home offices), 46 percent growth in the amount of employees and an increase in revenue of 14 percent that is expected to continue to grow.

AccelerateHER® is one of three Virginia winners of the Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Grant Awards. Learn more at

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