As the founder of the Girls Auto Clinic, Patrice Banks is on a mission to make women savvy about car maintenance.
The native of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania went from being a self-professed “auto airhead” to becoming a mechanic.
“I was a woman who often felt taken advantage of. I didn’t know how to take care of my car,” says Banks, who was an engineer at DuPont for 15 years.
“I felt helpless whenever it would break down or something would go wrong. I really didn’t feel confident talking to mechanics.”
So she started searching for resources online for women about car maintenance and she couldn’t find anything. Banks decided that she could make a difference.
In 2012, Banks pursued evening classes at Delaware Technical Community College in automotive technology to become a mechanic. She started working on cars and holding free workshops for women and subsequently Girls Auto Clinic was born in 2013. The popular workshops, which are held every third Saturday of the month at Crest Auto Stores in West Philadelphia, cover topics such as what to do in an emergency and how to talk to a mechanic. Banks has also penned the “Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide.”
Girls Auto Clinic recently netted $20,000 when she won the semifinalist Miller Lite Tap the Future competition held on July 19 in Philadelphia.
Banks pitched her business before a panel of judges including Daymond John from ABC’s “Shark Tank”; Chris Cera, co-founder of Philly Startup Leaders; and Sulaiman Sanni and Ben Lamson, founders of WeDidIt. She will advance to the final round of Miller Lite Tap the Future on Sept. 19 in Chicago to compete for the grand prize of $200,000.
“The premise behind it is to turn dreamers into CEOs. Without small business, there is no America, so the main primary objective is to help create jobs and to help support small businesses,” Steve Canal, national community affairs director, MillerCoors said of the competition.
“A lot of people think, why is Miller Lite involved with entrepreneurship? Well before Miller Lite became the big brand that it is, Fredrick Miller, who had a vision of creating a beer company, decided to go on a whim and create Miller Lite. It’s huge now but it started somewhere and that same premise and vision is what is what’s behind Tap the Future.”
In its two-year run, Tap the Future has garnered more than 4,000 entries and has awarded $700,000 in funding.
Banks will compete against five other businesses that won live pitch events in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami.
Winning the grand prize would put Banks one step closer to opening an auto repair center in West Philadelphia by the end of the year. She’s been working diligently to secure funding to get the shop up and running.
The new shop will employ female mechanics and technicians and be outfitted with a comfortable lounge and a nail salon where women can receive manicures and pedicures as they wait for their cars to be serviced. Banks said she’s received plenty of positive feedback from women mechanics who are interested in working for her shop.
Banks wants to offer a place where women can come to feel good about themselves, their cars and their car purchasing choices.
“It’s all centered around educating women and empowering them by bringing more women into this industry,” she said, noting that less than 2 percent of auto mechanics are female.
“My vision for this is to reach every woman driver in the United States. I believe every woman driver should have a good education of how her car works and how to maintain it, a mechanic she can trust and she should feel good about the purchases that she makes.”
With that in mind, Banks would like to do workshops throughout the country and go into high schools where she can offer basic car maintenance skills in conjunction with driver education classes.