Women business owners thrive with confidence, conviction
Key assets needed to build a successful woman-owned business
For women starting their own businesses in Colorado, especially those entering non-conventional job sectors, get ready to bring the passion.
Ample self-confidence and conviction in one’s business model are key assets needed to build a successful woman-owned business from the bottom up, say female entrepreneurs across the state. Hard work and chutzpah help, too.
“My biggest challenge was worrying if I was going to be successful,” said Kathy Boe, who founded her defense contractor company in her home basement in 2000. “I decided that I had to be successful. I just had to keep working hard and not believing I was going to fail. I’m an optimist, and I have determination and perseverance.”
Boe went from running her company alone for two years and not drawing a salary to employing 180 people at her Colorado Springs software development and information-technology company that provides services to the military.
The owner is one of many female entrepreneurs across Colorado who strive to bypass gender bias and prove their companies’ legitimacy and longevity. That drive is especially necessary in fields that have been male-dominated such as construction and technology. Common threads in conversations with female entrepreneurs include the importance of creativity and a love of handling the breadth of challenges of small-business life.
“I was smart enough to be dangerous, but I couldn’t tell you I knew what I was doing. I lived and endured every job in this company for the first year,” said Nadine Lange, founder of Open Scan Technologies, a financial software company that now has 65 employees.
National studies show that female-owned businesses have seen more growth in service-oriented industries such as health care, social assistance, education and administration. However, the uptick in startups across the U.S. and Colorado has led to continued diversification into other categories. The number of woman-owned firms is growing at one and a half times the rate of the national average, according to the 2013 State of Women-Owned Business Report. The report estimated more than 8.3 million female-owned businesses in the U.S. in 2012 generated almost $1.3 trillion in revenues.
Yet, those firms tend to be smaller in number of employees, payroll and sales than the national average.
The ColoradoBiz Top 100 Woman-Owned Companies in Colorado – based on self-reported gross revenues – includes companies owned by women in more traditional areas ranging from advertising to fitness and human relations to marketing. The Top 100 also highlights owners who are successful in construction, contracting, laboratory work, technology, facility management, aerospace, mechanical systems, engineering, architecture and manufacturing.
Female bosses describe a business climate in Colorado that is relatively neutral in gender; but it was not always that way. Owners who have been in business for some time have endured their fair share of skepticism before people got to know their business acumen. Female owners recall watching men direct conversations to their male subordinates, attending meetings where they were the only female in the room, and listening to others demand, “I really want to talk to who is in charge.”
Monika Celado-Stenger, president of Servitech Inc. in Aurora, founded her electrical contracting company in 2000.
“I used to get a lot of ‘so you kept the company in the divorce’ questions,” Stenger recalled with a laugh. Now Stenger’s company employs 28 people and generated $4 million in revenues in 2013.
Women are seeing a more level playing field these days, said Myka McLaughlin, owner of Women in Community, a Boulder business that helps female entrepreneurs build their profitability.
“Entrepreneurship is very sexy right now,” McLaughlin said. “We are living through a revolution in the labor market. We are seeing so many people look toward entrepreneurship as
Based on 1997 to 2012 growth figures, Colorado ranked 21st in number of woman-owned firms, 12th in firm revenues, and 31st in employment.
Sharon Matusik, academic director of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said relatable success stories are key.
“What you are seeing is a lot more positive momentum in terms of providing role models and resources to encourage more women to be entrepreneurs,” Matusik said. “The job is not to teach women to be more like men but rather to find role models and paths that play to their strengths.”
As the popularity of entrepreneurship has expanded and woman-owned firms have multiplied, so too has the acceptance of woman-owned startups in Colorado.
“People in the business world are getting used to women being there, and we are getting used to being there too,” said Michelle Parvinrouh, former manager of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado-Denver. “Entrepreneurialism is not limited to certain demographics. It becomes one of those mediums where women can really fulfill their potential.”
Female business owners note many reasons they started their own companies, including:
• Gaining more freedom
• Scheduling flexibility
• Opportunities for growth
• Control of their destiny
Some were searching for a feeling of accomplishment in an industry, disappointed with their employer, out of a job or the desire to be in charge. Women often start their own enterprise for something deeper than making money.
“For many women, we are actually motivated by our passions, and we want to help people,” McLaughlin said. “There’s a lot of research that women want to be aligned with work that benefits something more than just themselves.”
Women say despite the stress and time management challenges, they see satisfaction in creating companies that support and encourage employees and in providing a positive business culture of family and teamwork.
Female entrepreneurs continue to take the leap, ranging from a thriving solar energy company in Minturn to a Web application development firm in Boulder and a smart home technology engineering startup in Colorado Springs.
“Doing a startup for yourself, instead of for another company or boss, feels amazing,” said engineer Kristie Wilkerson, who is developing her Smart Air Intelligent Vent System. “I stretch myself more every day. This is the best adventure I have ever started.”
Tips from Colorado women business owners
• Develop a thick skin. You’ll have to make tough decisions, but it’s all part of the process of learning and growing.
• Accept help and offer the same to others when you are able. No one succeeds on her own.
• Take advantage of business resource organizations such as the SBA and SBDC. Always look for advice for how to effectively grow your business.
• Find someone who can be a resource to you, a mentor or partner.
• Attend a startup week or event. Take advantage of training programs.
• Set realistic limits, but do not hold yourself back.
• Don’t isolate yourself. Seek out peer-to-peer relationships.
• Watch your money. Understand your balance sheets.
• Surround yourself with good employees.
• Time is so important when you start; focus on your business and do what you do best. Find a good banker and a good lawyer.
• Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and gain a basic understanding of the areas that are not your core skills.
President of Servitech Inc.,
electrical contracting company
“The opportunity train does go by you, and it’s up to you to either jump on it or let it go by. I’m a true believer that when you are thinking about it, when in doubt, just jump on the train. You just start one thing, and one thing leads to another.”
Started JBlanco Enterprises,
roofing and construction company that employs 75 people
“If I would have known (the challenges of starting a business), I probably would have been scared, but I wanted to be independent. I thought, ‘if I’m going to work this hard, I want to do it for myself.’”
Former manager of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University
“In the next 10 years you’ll start to see more Colorado female entrepreneurs. I feel like that’s a good testament to the state of Colorado to have that openness.”