Women-owned businesses on the rise

Networking at a WIN eventAccording to Darcy Altizer, membership services director at the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, 18 women-owned businesses have joined the Chamber during the first quarter of 2011, compared to only nine during the first quarter of 2010, confirming a nation-wide trend of increasing numbers of women-owned businesses.

A report recently issued by American Express OPEN, a payment card issuer for small businesses, showed that the number of startups owned by women is growing 1.5 times as fast as the overall national rate.

“Women are taking the bull by the horns,” said Tamara Kinman, who owned Kinman Homes LLC for 15 years, and now owns two businesses – Tamara Kinman Property Preservation and a telecommunications direct-sales company.

According to Kinman, the continuing sluggish employment situation is motivating many women to look for opportunities where they can work for themselves.

The report draws its findings from 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data. Presented by industry and state, it paints a comprehensive picture of how women-owned businesses are faring, and how they have changed since 1997.

Some of the more important trends identified by the report include:

•      Women-owned businesses continue to diversify in all industries

•      Women-owned firms are keeping pace with all firms along the business size spectrum, but only up to the 100 employee and $1 million revenue levels.

Broken barriers  

Stereotypes are falling like dominoes as more women start their own businesses – more often than not in industries that have been traditionally male-dominated. For example, Sonja Starks, president of Vancouver-based Metropolitan Builders Inc., has been in the general contractor business for more than seven years, specializing in commercial tenant improvements.

Starks said she was very encouraged by the 41 percent increase in women-owned construction firms revealed by the American Express report. However, she said, in this area, it is still rare to see women bidding on commercial tenant improvement jobs.

Cindie Christie, too, knows what it is like to be a pioneer in an industry where men outnumber women by 80 percent. Christie co-owns Team Logic IT in Ridgefield, which designs, implements and deploys IT solutions for small to medium sized business.

“There are more women in IT now,” said Christie, who founded the company with her husband three and a half years ago. “People are taking us seriously. It’s a little less challenging today than three years ago.”

Still, if a potential client seems likely to interact more favorably with her (male) sales coordinator, Christie said she’ll send him in first to open the door.

“I’ve learned to tag team,” said Christie.

Many local women business owners credit a growing support network with enabling the mushrooming of women-owned businesses here and nationwide.

“I tapped into Oregon Entrepreneur Network (OEN), and it has been invaluable,” said Terri Entler, who is launching a new business, Bowserwear LLC, which sells medical devices for the veterinary industry.

“My momentum has grown ten-fold,” said Entler. “OEN has made a huge difference in the way I’m operating.”

Another local networking resource, Women in Networking (WIN) Northwest, is also popular among local women business owners. Cindy Johnson, founder of the organization, said that since 2008 when WIN Northwest was founded, membership has quadrupled. Attendance at WIN Northwest’s monthly networking events, said Johnson, has grown from an average of 100 last year to 200 this year.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for women – and a lot of risk taking in this economy. But it’s not stopping them,” said Johnson.

Women own more businessesHeartbreak hill                   

There seems to be a “cliff” for women-owned businesses, according to the 2010 Census numbers. In terms of both revenue and employment, the share of women-owned firms at the highest levels of business accomplishment has remained essentially unchanged over the past 14 years – only 1.8 percent make $1 million or more in revenues. Julie Weeks, research advisor at American Express OPEN, and author of the report, calls the 100 employee/$1 million in revenue mark “heartbreak hill.”

According to the report, “something is putting women-owned firms off their stride as they grow larger; they fall behind toward the end of the entrepreneurial marathon, when entering the 100-employee and million-dollar ‘anchor leg’ of the race.”

Local women business owners opined that perhaps this is due to most women preferring to balance life and work, not focus on work alone.

For example, Starks said that she has always tried to manage day-to-day family obligations of raising three children (the eldest of which is now secretary/treasurer of the firm) and prioritize them along with the demands of owning her construction business.

“I set boundaries,” said Starks. “At five or six o’clock, the phone is off, the computer is off.”

But Weeks thinks there’s more to “heartbreak hill” than simply maternal instincts kicking in.

 “When you get to heartbreak hill,” said Weeks, “there are fewer peers, mentors, and role models for women business owners.”

Weeks said that much of business support – especially for women and minorities – is focused on getting people into business; there is not as much support and education for staying in business.

“It’s an alert to chambers of commerce,” said Weeks, if they want women-owned business to continue to thrive past the 100 employee/$1 million in revenue milestone. “They need to pay attention to mid-stage growth issues.”

Women-owned businesses by the numbers
(source: American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report)


  • # of businesses:  8.1 million
  • Total revenue: $1.3 trillion
  • Employment: 7.7 million Americans
  • Account for 29 percent of all businesses in the United States
  • The industries with the highest concentration of women-owned firms are: health care and social assistance (52 percent) and educational services (46 percent)
  • Washington ranks 31st in growth of number of firms over the past 14 years, and 20th in growth of firm revenue in the same time period

In Washington state, women-owned businesses are on a par with the national average in terms of employment and has experienced significant sales growth in the last 14 years. However, the total number of women-owned firms in Washington trails the national average by 14.9 percent.


Resources for women business owners



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