In 1996, Diane McClelland, producer and owner of Gateway to the Women’s Market, launched an information initiative to learn how more than 350 women business owners in Oregon ran their companies and what was important to them as owners and consumers. On September 23, 1996, Gateway to the Women’s Market held its first event, which honored a group of Oregon women business owners. The women were chosen because of their inspiring stories about overcoming challenges to build successful businesses. That evening they were the first to be presented with the Astra Award. Astra comes from the phrase “ad astra per aspera” meaning “rising to the stars through difficulties.”
Gateway to the Women’s Market provided sales training to financial service companies across the country about the “power of the woman’s purse” and how to build loyalty with women consumers. The company also offered training for women-owned businesses and held events honoring the accomplishments of women business executives until 1999.
Diane McClelland became frustrated by the many businesses that continued to ignore the purchasing power of women. At the same time, Suzanne Lackman, a past owner of both a furniture manufacturing and a tool liquidation business, witnessed the existing discrimination in the marketplace against women and women-owned businesses. Both were determined to make an impact. In 1996, they founded Astra Women’s Business Alliance, the name coming from the original “Astra” award, and in 1999, Astra became a regional partner of Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).
The Astra/WBENC partnership offers access to global, national and regional networks of corporations and federal agencies with goals to diversify their supply chains and provide contracts to qualified women business owners.
Today, Astra administers WBENC and WOSB certification in Alaska, Northern California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
Astra also works with corporations, government agencies, and women-owned businesses to offer events, training, and mentoring that help women businesses grow and thrive.