the new girls club: women entrepreneurs tap passion and perseverance across ohio
While the Buckeye State may seem like the middle of America in many ways, when it comes to women-owned businesses, Ohio holds its own, coming in at number eight out of 50, with 256,400 businesses helmed by women in 2011.
According to Candace Klein, Founder and CEO of the all-girl, all-Ohio micro-lending organization Bad Girl Ventures
, women face specific challenges when entering the world of entrepreneurship. Many want to return to the workforce after years as a stay-at-home mom. Others are trying to rebound from a difficult professional or personal situation.
"With a bad economy comes unemployment and divorce," says Klein, who has fielded more than 570 applications from women across the state hoping to land a coveted spot in one of BGV's nine-week business development courses.
Once women decide to take the plunge, the biggest hurdle before them, says Klein, is their fear of debt and finance in general combined with a finance industry that demands collateral and documented experience, which can be particularly difficult if a woman is seeking to capitalize on a hobby that she believes has financial potential.
"More than 50 percent of all privately held companies in the United States are owned by women," says Klein, "yet they have access us to less than five percent of traditional capital (in the form of bank loans) and three percent of venture capital. It's a really big problem."
To persuade financiers and get a fledgling business off the ground, says Klein, women need to implement formal tools such as a solid business plan and an aggressive growth strategy. They also need to think on a grander scale.
"So often women I'm working with never think beyond paying themselves a meager salary in their business. So seldom does a woman think: I need to take on equity investment. Whereas her male counterparts in the exact same business are going to equity investors first."
The good news is that women are making it to the other side. Marks of success, says Klein, include effective marketing, lucrative clients and financial independence. When it all comes together, "Women make better long term business owners," says Klein. "They treat their business like an extension of their family. They put their heart and soul into their business."
contributor Erin O'Brien rounded up a bevy of Ohio's women entrepreneurs at different stages of business development and asked these tough, savvy and perseverant women about what drives them, what challenges they face, and what inspires them. Based upon their passion and insight, the old boys' club had better make room for the new girls (grrls?). Not only have they arrived; they clearly have no intention of turning back.
Kelley Hynds, early 30's
President and Executive Producer, Hyndsight Media
Founded 2009, Cleveland, Ohio
Disillusioned with her career in broadcast journalism, Hynds joined the marketing world in 2005, then abandoned that traditional job at the height of the Great Recession to found her sole proprietorship Hyndsight Media.
"My passion for the original goal of getting people information never went away, but I found it hard to match my passion with the traditional outlets."
Hynds combines her background in journalism, documentary filmmaking and marketing "to create content driven pieces in an innovative way." Hyndsight Media has produced marketing videos for clients such as ServiceMaster and Lowes.
Hynds aims to expand her firm to include an online news platform that would offer three- to five-minute videos on social and civic issues, with education-driven content covering background information, key arguments and data.
"If you're unfamiliar with Senate Bill 5, how jobs effect the economy, or what the immigration debate is all about, you can watch our short video, get yourself up to speed and re-engage in mainstream media for the debate and the civic dialogue."
Her way/his way:
"Men and women conduct business differently," says Hynds. "They have different styles, triggers and priorities. Women are often asked to conform to the way men do things. I think that is a false choice."
"There's a lot of value in what women and a woman's perspective bring to business. We all conduct business differently. We see the right path through different lenses. It's the combination of all those perspectives that's going to lead to success."
Andrea Trgovcich, 45
Principal, Wellness Integrated Network (WIN)
Founded 2007, Youngstown, Ohio
To create a web/mobile based app that combines data from a wide base of restaurants, grocery stores and even coupon sources and creates individual wellness plans based on the user's goals, dietary needs, budget, cooking ability and time constraints.
On the verge:
After persevering through difficult setbacks and fundraising troubles, Trgovcich is ready to roll out testing units to ten users to "work out any kinks" before a general release to a pool of prospective users: 5,100 employees of Humility of Mary Health Partners.
"We're weeks away," says Trgovcich who is confident that WIN will soon garner larger industry support and success. "We're finally growing some legs."
On men, money and the driving force:
"Men that I work with in this field are always trying to get me to focus on the bottom line. Being successful is always measured by money. A woman's perspective in business is that we have to have something more than money. Because I came from the wellness and community health education background, I'm very excited about helping people," says Trgovcich, citing the country's diabetes and obesity epidemics. " I really want to help people manage and prevent chronic disease. If I can make a difference and give parents and children tools to lead healthier lives, that's a big driving force."
Anne Hartnett, 28
Prospective Founder, Harness Fitness
Founding date TBD, Cleveland, Ohio
As one of BadGirl Ventures' Spring 2012 Finalists, Hartnett is in the fledgling stage of her entrepreneurial career. She envisions Harness Fitness as a wellness studio that will garner a "triple bottom line." With stationary bikes that capture the energy exerted by their users, Hartnett says she'll evaluate her success not only on profits, but also on "the community we create, the impact our products and services have on the planet, and the influence of our profits on our local economy."
"I really look up to the entrepreneurs that we're seeing birthed through our compromised economy," says Hartnett, citing Danielle Deboe, who opened the the trendy retail spot The Dredger's Union in Downtown Cleveland in 2010 and the niche boutique Room Service in 2007. "She's paving the way for local businesses to grow. She sells all locally made products and they're very unique."
Nikki Means, 30-something
CEO, Project Socialize LLC
Founded 2009, Cincinnati, Ohio
The company she keeps:
Project Socialize helps an ever-changing roster of 25 transactional and retainer clients manage their online reputation and marketing programs. The firm offers a number of services including social media program development, online community management, training and digital services.
Means calls the first baby steps on the way to bringing Project Socialize to fruition "terrifying and hard."
"At the end of the day, I had to ask myself: why would someone hire Project Socialize to assist with their social media effort versus some other big marketing agency or company that provides technical internet services?" The answer was a shrewd head for planning and soft heart for authentic online interaction.
"For a company to really be successful online, they have to show their human side—that they are not just a brand that doesn't have people supporting it. You have to put content out there that speaks both to business and the person," says Means. "It's not just about setting up a Facebook page."
Doing it her way:
Means leapt into an entrepreneurship because she felt trapped "doing the same thing over and over" within a large, controlling corporate machine.
"I want to be in control of my own destiny when it comes to the work I do," says Means. "I want the opportunity to tap into skills and talents I may not even have recognized I have."
Lisa Gonzales Bramhall, 42
President, Sediment Control Solutions Inc.
Founded: 2008, Avon, Ohio
One muddy prospect:
Sediment Control Solutions, Inc. consults clients on EPA regulations regarding water quality and sediment control. The firm offers construction site inspections, advising clients about possible regulation problems with site water quality, management and run off.
"We don't just tell them what they want to hear," says Gonzales Bramhall. "We walk the site as if we were the EPA." Clients have included The Cleveland Clinic, Westlake City School District and RTA (the Regional Transit Authority).
"I am seriously pursuing warehouse space and purchasing a truck so we may offer site development material to our clients," says Gonzales Bramhall, who hopes to break into the material supply side of the business.
"My passion is actually women and children," says Gonzales Bramhall, citing her work with the Domestic Violence Coalition in Las Vegas, Genesis House and the Blessing House in Lorain County, Ohio. "My goal is to be able to do more in those areas if my business becomes successful. It's actually what's helping to drive what I'm doing entirely."
Advice for up-and-comers:
"Do not back down," says Gonzales Bramhall. "Trust your gut instinct. It takes a lot of moxie to be an entrepreneur to begin with. To be a woman entrepreneur, it takes even a little more. It's easy to feel intimidated. But if you really believe in something and really believe it has a chance to fly, go for it."
"There are people out there who will see your vision if you're passionate about it and if you believe in yourself."
1. Candace Klein, Founder and CEO of Bad Girl Ventures (photo Ben French)
2. Kelley Hynds, President and Executive Producer of Hyndsight Media. (Photo Bob Perkoski)
3. Andrea Trgovcich, Principal of Wellness Integrated Network. (photo submitted)
4. Anne Hartnett, Prospective Founder of Harness Fitness. (Photo Bob Perkoski)
5. Nikki Means, CEO of Project Socialize LLC. (photo submitted)
6. Lisa Gonzales Bramhall, President of Sediment Control Solutions, Inc. (Photo submitted)