New research indicates a steady rise of women-owned businesses on both sides of the state line.
Story by Susan Fotovich McCabe
At a young age, they call it “girl power.” But by the time women reach adulthood, “girl power” moves full speed into lucrative careers and even entrepreneurship. So it’s no surprise that women are starting 1,288 new businesses each day, double the rate from only three years ago, according to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN. The report includes a detailed analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and found that during the past 17 years, the number of women-owned businesses has increased at 1.5 times the national average.
The report shows that women are choosing an entrepreneurial path at record rates, estimating that there are more than 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. (compared to 8.6 million in 2013). These businesses generate more than $1.4 trillion in revenue, employ 7.9 million people and account for 30 percent of all enterprises.
“To our surprise, nearly 1,300 new female businesses emerge each day,” says Julie Weeks, American Express OPEN research advisor. “It might be an artifact of the recession. Women may have left the labor force on their own or because of layoffs and decided to start their own businesses.”
Another reason, Weeks suggests, could be due to the success of Encore Entrepreneurs, a joint effort by the Small Business Administration and AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) to guide people age 50 and older into new careers as business owners. But regardless of age, she says more women—particularly those with higher education and strong managerial experience—are giving it a try.
THE ECONOMIC IMPACT
While state rankings place Missouri and Kansas at 35th and 48th, respectively, in the growth of the number of women-owned firms over the past 17 years, both are trending upward. Missouri, for example, has increased by nearly 40 percent since 1997, while Kansas has improved its numbers by nearly 30 percent.
Kansas has an estimated 70,900 women-owned firms, employing 73,300 (in addition to the owner) and attributing to roughly $10.5 billion. Conversely, Missouri has an estimated 143,800 women-owned firms, employing 143,000 (in addition to the owner) and attributing to roughly $22.7 billion. This growth represents a steady increase in the influence women-owned businesses have on the U.S. economy, Weeks says. Since 1997, women-owned firms have added 11 percent more jobs. In fact, these businesses have emerged from the recent recession as second only to publicly traded companies in U.S., with 274,000 net new jobs since 2007.
“Imagine the economic impact if more of these new, women-led ventures were transformed into thriving businesses,” Weeks says.
ACCESSING VITAL RESOURCES
Locally, female professionals have witnessed the growing trend.
“I started my first company 30 years ago and can certainly attest to the fact that one had to look hard to find other women who owned and ran their own businesses,” says Kansas City-based Motional Multimedia Owner and President Nancy Zurbuchen. She also co-founded the Kansas City Council of Women Business Owners (KC-CWBO) and serves as its executive director.
“At the time, I didn’t know I was an oddity, but according to the statistics, I guess I was. There were so few of us then,” Zurbuchen says. “I was simply following an internal impetus to start and grow a business. I recall attending one women’s business group and discovering that the topic for the evening was ‘How to Get a Raise Out of Your Boss.’
“THERE ARE SO MANY RESOURCES AND PROGRAMS AVAILABLE LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY; WOMEN SHOULD UTILIZE THEM URGENTLY!” ~ Nancy Zurbuchen, Owner, Motional Multimedia
And yet despite those resources, Kansas City’s Lead Bank recently conducted research revealing that 35 percent of area women business owners planned acquisition strategies, but that 75 percent are underfunded. As such, Lead Bank recently launched its “Women in Business Initiative,” providing strategic and operational advising, as well as competitive financing options, low fixed rates, and long-term loans.
JUST FOR HER EXPO
While financing can be a challenge, most women believe that it’s worth the struggle to build a company—if not for their careers, for their families. That was the impetus behind Teddi Hernandez’s decision to leave her corporate position at Hallmark Cards after 24 years and become an entrepreneur.
Hernandez and her business partner, Aimee Jacobson, co-own the Overland Park-based Just for Her Expo, an annual conference showcasing more than 300 booths filled with fashions, accessories, beauty products, food, and health and wellness items catered toward women. The sixth-annual Just for Her Expo took place from May 30 to June 1.
Because Just For Her targets female vendors and customers with its events, Hernandez says most of the female business owners she encounters tend to have the following traits in common: they’re either mature women who left long-term careers to follow their passions, or they’re younger women who have zero desire to work for a big company and mustered up the courage to start their own business.
“Many women are leaving the corporate world because of family responsibilities,” Hernandez says. “There are women-owned businesses popping up all over, and we enjoy having the chance to help them reach new consumers as our vendors.”
Hernandez says she takes pride in her successful, rapidly growing business. “I get up in the morning thinking about it and usually find myself thinking about it the moment my five children are done with homework and ready for bed,” she says. “The sense of accomplishment comes from the fact that our business is owned by two women, that our entire staff is made up of women and that the guests at our retail events are all women.”
Achieving a work/life balance was important to Kansas entrepreneur Laura Schmidt, founder of Prairie Village-based sock company Notes to Self. Her socks, which feature positive affirmations like “I am Smart,” or “I am Strong,” are sold online and through 1,000 retailers nationwide. The business started in her home and now operates from an area warehouse with a staff of nine.
“I truly see myself as an entrepreneur, not a female or male entrepreneur,” Schmidt says. “So that in itself might be a sign of movement toward more equality. In my first business, where I spent 20 years in direct sales, my decision to start that business was greatly influenced by my desire to have the flexibility to raise my children. Even though our children are [now] in college, I still value the flexibility to travel to visit them at college whenever I choose and to work around other personal choices and priorities.”
On the other side of the state line, Kansas City-based Portfolio Kitchen & Home Owner Geri Higgins says to thrive as a female entrepreneur requires the same ingredients and effort as any successful business, regardless if it’s run by a man or a woman. She admits there are some natural female qualities—such as being good at multi-tasking—that may offer an advantage.
“I think for any business owner to have an opportunity for success, they have to be confident, have a plan, focus on the intended outcome and not be tethered by the expectations of others,” Higgins says. “I believe that strong leaders should have a vision and approach their vision with passion, not fear.”
Regardless of the upward trend in women-owned businesses, KC-CWBO’s other co-founder, Becky Wilson, who owns WDS Marketing & Public Relations in Overland Park, says that while that number grows, the size of women enterprises remains smaller than their male counterparts in terms of the number of employees and gross revenues. However, she sees the silver lining.
“The upside is that these small businesses and micro-enterprises fill an important market niche in addition to allowing women to generate income, manage their future and have important flexible family time,” Wilson says. “There is a highly enjoyable sense of self-satisfaction in business ownership, and women have discovered how rewarding that can be.”