Upward Trend In Women-Owned Small Businesses

By Vivienne Machi Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio.

BUTLER COUNTY

The number of women deciding to take the reins of their own company has been rising steadily during the past decade.

According to American Express OPEN's 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, nearly 9.1 million women-owned businesses currently operate in the United States, generating over $1.4 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 7.9 million people.

The report also found that between 1997 and 2014, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 68 percent, 1 1/2 times the national average rate of 47 percent.

According to Bad Girl Ventures Executive Director Corey Drushal, if a woman is thinking about opening a small business, the most important thing she can do is talk about her business idea with as many people as possible.

"Oftentimes, entrepreneurs get scared of talking about (the business) too much, which hinders their ability to tap into the business," she said.

Bad Girl Ventures was founded in 2010 in Cincinnati to provide resources to women looking to start their own business, and work to "empower the female entrepreneur," Drushal said.

"Women face some unique challenges when it comes to launching and growing business," she said, stating, for example, that many women struggle to find financing more than men do, due to traditionally owning less property or a tendency to have more financial hardship than men after a divorce.

But Drushal has seen an upsurge in women applying for BGV's services, which include nine-week business courses, investment opportunities, and one-on-one mentoring via a partnership with Cincinnati nonprofit SCORE.

"I remember our first class had maybe 15 attendees, and our current fall class has 45," she said.

Other area business supporters have seen an upward trend as well. According to data provided by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which provides small business counseling free of charge out of its offices in Hamilton and Middletown, 189 out of 279 individuals seen for consultations between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sept, 30, 2014, were women, or just under 50 percent.

The SBDC also partners with Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families (SELF) and Neighborhood Housing Services to offer the 10-week Butler County Microenterprise and Microloan Program, which trains Butler County residents on the ins and outs of opening a business, free of charge.

"Historically, about 65 percent of enrollees (in the microenterprise and microloan program) have been women," said SELF Community Relations Director Beth Race. She added that 2013 saw a bump in women's attendence: "Seventy-four percent of last year's attendees were women," she said.

Kelly Bittlinger, administrative coordinator for the West Chester-Liberty Chamber of Commerce, started her Middletown professional cleaning and organizing business, Room 4 Life, in the beginning of 2012.

"I knew that I could organize, but I didn't know the business side," she said. Support from BizTech, now rebranded as the Hamilton Mill, was a huge help at that time, she said, as was the microenterprise and microloan program, which helped her get one of her first loans.

"I didn't know what resources were available to me as a woman when I first started," she said.

A FAMILY TEAM

A mother-daughter team hopes to open a new bakery on Hamilton's West Side in December.

Diana Ramsey said she started thinking about opening a small business about a year ago, and enlisted help from her daughter, Kelly Vaughn, in bringing freshly baked goods including doughnuts, muffins, pastries and cupcakes to 1335 Main St.

"Being a small business owner is not for the faint of heart," Vaughn said. Especially as a baker: "People think of women bakers as these cute girls with aprons, but we're picking up 50-pound bags of flour."

But she and her mother agreed that Ramsey's background in industrial supply and business and Vaughn's experience working at her aunt's bakery make them confident about their shop's success.

"My sister is my consultant," Ramsay said.

Her sister, Tari Niederman, has owned the Donut Stop, 5148 Pleasant Ave., in Fairfield since 2009, and said that sometimes, people assumed there had to be a man behind the business.

"I have one full-time employee who puts orders in, but I do payroll, operating, as well as baking," she said. Niederman arrives in the mid-afternoon to begin baking ahead of the store's 1 a.m. open time, and sometimes keeps baking throughout the day.

"But I've had enough people come by that think a man owns the shop," she said.

'YOU HAVE TO BE PRETTY TOUGH'

Jody Boyd watched her mother run a business all of her life, as her parents, John and Joyce Brown, opened Brown's Family Farm Market in Ross 44 years ago and have been at their current location at 11620 Hamilton-Cleves Road for the past 26 years.

"You have to be pretty tough (as a woman business owner)," she said. "My mother had to be tough with the men who came through, who she negotiated with."

But Boyd added that she sees women business owners being more aggressive these days, emphasizing that for anyone trying to run a small business now, "you have to live, sleep, and breathe the business."

Drushal said she believes that "the entrepreneur is where we as a nation need to invest our time."

"They're coming up with the solutions to problems facing our nation," she said.

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