By Tara Bozick
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
At the Small Business Development Center offices in Hampton, it’s not uncommon to see groups of women getting help in starting or growing their businesses.
In fact, Hampton Roads SBDC associate director Debra Farley estimates that 42 percent of the center’s clients — those receiving at least a one-on-one consultation — from 2012-2014 were women.
“I think I’ve always seen more women wanting to start new businesses,” said Farley, who has been with the SBDC 25 years.
Nationally, the number of women-owned firms has increased 68 percent from 1997 to 2014, outpacing national growth of 47 percent in the number of businesses, according to a report commissioned by American Express Open and prepared by women entrepreneur advocacy firm Womenable. In Virginia, the report estimates that the number of women-owned firms grew by 14 percent to 218,500, with jobs growing 6 percent from 2007-2014.
Still, a Kauffman Foundation report points out that while the number of women-owned businesses has increased, women-owned business employment, revenue and payroll has stagnated over the past two decades. The Womenable report argues that part of this is small business taking a “back seat” to large publicly traded companies in terms of economic output, while the Kauffman report notes that women have fewer role models and start businesses with less capital or financing than men.
Three local women business owners — two veterans and a former defense contractor — shared with the Daily Press reasons why they went into business for themselves, and the challenges they have faced.
Jalil Lindsey-Lowe, a 35-year-old mother of three in Hampton, started her nutrition counseling and in-home personal training business Custom Eatz Inc. in 2012 to help women get fit. While in the Navy, she was often asked for nutrition advice because she was also in culinary school. But after leaving the military in 2005, she had to figure out how to lose about 30 extra pounds and keep them off. She lost 50 pounds and got a job at a weight loss clinic.
Nearly all of her clients are women. Because many are juggling jobs and kids, she visits their homes.
“I feel like it’s been my mission to teach women how to take care of themselves physically and mentally and not be intimidated when they go into the gym, and not be afraid of lifting weights — actually heavy weights,” Lindsey-Lowe said.
To communicate with her growing client base, she created a Facebook page called “Six Packs Under Stretch Marks” as a way for the women to support each other in staying strong in not “eating doughnuts in the break room.” Lindsey-Lowe also shares her own recipes and fitness tips, and creates challenges for them.
While still learning the ins and outs of running a business, the “Fit Chef” realized after visiting the SBDC that she underestimated how much she would need to network and market her business. She also had to make sure she paid herself a salary and understood that she might not make money right away.
“That’s all been a learning experience over the past couple years,” Lindsey-Lowe said. “All the things the average person just isn’t going to know.”
Barbara Holmes Smith, the owner of BHS Contracting LLC in Hampton, got into the construction business after encouragement from a former business associate. After spending 25 years as a defense contractor in various management positions, including as a project engineer, Smith went through the certification process for the firm to be a Class A builder and fell in love with project management.
“It became a challenge to make sure everyone’s in the right place, like an orchestra,” Smith said. “A lot of people don’t want to manage the project — that’s the customer I’m looking for.”
She had to learn the business from top to bottom and so joined various trade associations. She went to the SBDC for help.
“My only challenge is getting up to speed in an industry that is male-dominated that I had little experience in,” Smith, whose name reads “BH Smith” on her business cards.
But she enjoys the challenge, especially as she had been in computer science, which was also dominated by men.
“There’s a lot of support if you reach out,” Smith said.
Taking a leap
Navy veteran Lacey M. Schlappi, 31, of Suffolk partnered with husband Tim to start a business last January that maintains parachute equipment for skydiving and pilot emergencies. Tim Schlappi has about 20 years experience in the field and is a special operations parachute rigger in the Navy.
Most of the current clients are skydivers, and Lacey Schlappi hooked up with the SBDC in hopes of expanding to open a parachute rigger training school.
One challenge for Lacey was experiencing “business bullying” from a competitor. She runs the business, but her husband and other employees are the Federal Aviation Administration-certified parachute riggers, with her husband attaining the master level. Eventually, she plans to pursue certification herself.
Still, she gets motivation and strength by working with local disabled veterans and the Chesapeake-based nonprofit Wounded Wear, which provides modified clothing for disabled veterans.
She said she started the business to keep Tim’s passion alive after he was seriously injured while skydiving during a training exercise in Arizona. He ended up losing his lower left leg.
“We started it to prove to him that regardless of his injuries he can still do amazing things,” she said.
For more information about the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center, visit http://www.hrsbdc.org.