Local Businesswomen Gather To Talk Entrepreneurship

By Vicki Hillhouse Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash.

Don't expect Annie Newton to be part of that statistic on women who make less money than their male counterparts in business.

As her own boss in the brother/sister partnership behind 4 Seasons Color, she's cutting the checks, and essentially building her own destiny in the process.

That's the beauty of entrepreneurship, she told a packed house gathered at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center for an estrogen power-packed Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon titled "The Power of Women in Business."

"If you're an entrepreneur, who's putting the lid on you?" she posed to the sold-out crowd comprised of probably 90 percent women.

She said she questions reports that say women make just a percentage of men in the same jobs.

"Really? Who's taking it away from me?"

Newton is apparently not alone in that thinking. Not only are four of the other panelists who sat alongside her for the event building their own businesses, but more women in general are taking the reins as entrepreneurs.

In 2014, 1,200 new women-owned businesses started every day in the U.S., according to statistics provided during the event. That was double the annual average from 1997 to 2014.

More than 9 million women own businesses, accounting for one in three businesses operations.

Chamber President and CEO David Woolson said though Walla Walla's numbers won't be updated until later this year, the last data from 1997 reflected the national trend at the time. Of the 3,079 sole proprietor firms in the community, 1,159 were male-owned, and 1,148 were female-owned. The rest were co-owned by men and women.

The huge growth -- both on a national scale and a local one -- was the reason for the panel event and an attempt to understand the stories behind the businesses, the lessons learned and what women add as leaders in the workplace.

Panelists also included Annette Bergevin of Bergevin Lane Vineyards; Shannon Bergevin of Express Employment Professionals; Hannah McDonald of Brasserie Four; and Laura Angulo of WorthFit Studio.

Although each is in a different field, they all had at least one thing in common. Their work ethics were honed starting at an early age. Each experienced work before they were even old enough to drive a car. In numerous cases, they started particularly young, picking strawberries and onions.

The journey to business ownership grew from there.

McDonald spent some of her formative teen weekends working at Dairy Queen. Now the tables have turned, and local DQ owner Kerry Tierney has become one of her customers.

McDonald's story is one of adventure in romance in global travels from France to Switzerland, with a stint at a prominent French restaurant as an intern in between. She returned to Walla Walla to be closer to family as she raised her son.

After working for Grapefields, the opportunity arose for her to buy the business and keep it alive in a move that would both support her little family and the staff of what otherwise would have been a closing business. Four employees are still there from the former Grapefields, even after eight years at Brasserie Four.

Apart from travel, the panelists shared at least one other characteristic: the nerve to try something new.

Annette Bergevin said her piece of advice to others considering entrepreneurship is reframing their concerns.

"The biggest stumbling block is fear," Bergevin said. "I think if you could change your mindset to go from fear to intrigue or maybe curiosity" the concerns would diminish.

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