Women take strides in entrepreneurship

Owners in state rise 54% since 1997

Posted: June 7, 2014 at 2:10 a.m.

On a recent Saturday morning, a conference room at Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock was filled with about 65 women who had one thing in common: They wanted to learn how to start and grow their own business.

The women -- a mix of current and potential entrepreneurs -- are part of a growing demographic of small-business owners in the United States.

"At this day and age, it's exciting to be a woman in business because there are so many opportunities," said Lisa Douglas, 49, who was attending the Little Rock Women's Business Boot Camp, a seminar on how to start and grow businesses.

"It's a great time to be a woman in business," said Douglas, who has her own law firm in North Little Rock. "There are no glass ceilings."

Between 1997 and 2014, the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. increased by about 68 percent, according to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses report by American Express.

In Arkansas, the number of women-owned companies rose 54.5 percent during the same 17-year period.

There are an estimated 65,800 women-owned businesses in the state, up 12.3 percent since 2007, according to the American Express report.

"In general, we see more women starting businesses every year," said Erin Andrew, the director for Women's Business Ownership at the Small Business Administration. "People are embracing entrepreneurship as a job in a way they haven't in the past."

There are several factors influencing more women to start their own business, including the "new culture conversation that everyone can be entrepreneurial," said Susan Duffy, executive director for the Center for Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College in Massachusetts.

The rise in the number of resources and educational programs available for women is also motivating them to start their own companies, Duffy said.

"There continue to be more resources because globally we've woken up to the fact that women's entrepreneurial potential is going to completely change the economic landscape," she said. "There's so much value that we can bring to the table if we educate and support women entrepreneurs."

Women business owners also differ from their male counterparts. They are more optimistic, according to a recent report by Bank of America.

Of the business owners surveyed for the report, 70 percent of the women expect their revenue to increase this year, compared to 66 percent of men.

More women owners also expect to hire more employees in the next year and expand their business in the next five years, according to the report.

"Women-owned small businesses have become an increasingly important driver of the U.S. economic recovery, with hundreds of women launching new companies every day," Robb Hilson, small-business executive at Bank of America, said in a statement. "The optimism women business owners express about the prospects for their business underscores the need for dedicated resources in their communities to help support their growth plans."

In general, there has been an increase in conferences and training opportunities targeted to supporting small businesses, said Larry Brian, director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

"The banks ... are starting to get back into the small-business lending arena," he said. "In our area, it has been tough for a few years to get a small-business loan because they are one of the riskiest loans a bank makes on a startup business. In the last year and a half, we are seeing more banks step up to the plate and make small-business loans to women and men."

Business on 06/07/2014