By Christopher Seward The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Financial adviser Ellecia Douglas of Powder Springs didn't let the fear of competition or any other challenges stop her from starting two businesses over the last five years.
Douglas founded EA Douglas Financial Services LLC in 2008.
Then last fall, she formed Mommie Moguls InK, a mentoring service that helps stay-at-home moms and other women get new businesses off the ground -- from crystallizing a vision for a product or service, coming up with options for raising start-up capital, down to the nuts and bolts of creating an effective web presence.
"Women are beginning to realize that more and more, there's an audience for everyone," said Douglas, a Mercer University graduate.
"Yes, there is healthy competition and if we are not on our game and not offering the best product or service, someone else will. But if we stick with it, there is enough business out there for everybody."
Douglas is among scores of women who have started businesses since 1997 in metro Atlanta and Georgia, which leads the nation in the growth of women-owned companies, according to a new report by American Express OPEN, a payment card issuer for small businesses.
The state also leads in share of businesses owned by African-Americans.
Georgia currently has an estimated 317,200 women-owned companies, up 118 percent since 1997, according to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.
The companies employ 240,200 workers, up 26 percent, and have combined sales of about $45.6 billion, up 80 percent.
Two-thirds of state's women-owned companies (202,400) are in metro Atlanta, which has seen a 63 percent increase since 1997.
The report, conducted by Womenable, a research firm and consultancy, is based on projected business data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The study found that nationally, women are starting 1,288 net new businesses every day, double the rate from three years ago.
Nancy Chorpenning, managing director at C-Suite Advisors LLC, an Atlanta small business consultancy, said there are myriad sources of support for women-owned businesses locally, one of the "good signs" for continued growth in the number of women-owned firms.
"Women tend to help one another and work especially well networking and giving back in mentoring relationships," Chorpenning said.
The number of minority women-owned companies nationally rose 216 percent during the period to an estimated 2.9 million, compared with 68 percent for all women-owned firms in the same period. Other findings:
-- Georgia has the second-largest number of African-American women-owned companies (108,900, up 430 percent) after New York.
-- The number of Latino women-owned businesses in Georgia has grown 325 percent to 15,000.
-- Asian-American women own 18,600 companies in the state, up 253 percent.
-- There are 2,500 Native American women-owned businesses in Georgia, up 130 percent.
Tammie Bailey-Fults, chief executive officer of the National Association of Women-Owned Small Businesses Inc. in Atlanta, said the recent Great Recession left many metro Atlanta women jobless, making them reassess their career assets.
"They realized, 'I might as well try something that either I already have experience in or something that has been a lifelong dream and passion,'" said Bailey-Fults.
Her group helps women entrepreneurs compete for government and corporate contracts.
The recession also made entrepreneurs think differently about how they do business, Bailey-Fults said. Some owners, for example, shifted to doing business only online rather than bearing the cost of a bricks-and-mortar location.
"Social media and online couponing have really helped a lot of members." Bailey-Fults said.
Finding the capital to get a business off the ground is still a challenge, as is making enough money to hire the help needed to grow the business.
"To help offset the cost of running a businesses, you have some owners who are trying to still work full-time or work part-time,"
Bailey-Fults said. "Even with that, women are still making it happen. You make a way out of no way."
Chorpenning, who sits on the board of National Association of Women Business Owners, said, "Much of the challenge is getting word out that help is available."
Douglas, who started Mommie Moguls InK out of her home to have more flexibility in taking care of a child with special needs, said mutual support is also important.
"Women stick together," she said. "We typically support one another."