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Study reports women-owned startups outnumber men-owned businesses

The face of the American small business community is changing. A recent study by the National Association for the Self-Employed shows that startups of women-owned businesses outnumbered new men-owned businesses by nearly a 2-1 ratio in 2003. That trend is evident in San Diego County, too.

George Chamberlin

"These findings present an important snapshot of women in today's workplace and a look at how the nation's 9.1 million self-employed women are in all-out pursuit of a more integrated and fulfilling work and personal life than they believe is afforded by the corporate world," said Robert Hughes, association president.

According to the Center for Women's Business Research, there are 64,797 women-owned businesses in San Diego County with more than 215,000 employees. These companies will generate nearly $13 million in sales this year. All of this ranks the local region number 12 of the 50 major metropolitan markets in the United States.

"At a time when employment is critical to the growth of urban economies, women-owned businesses are having a vital impact," said Myra Hart of the research center and a professor at the Harvard Business School. "Between 1997 and 2004, the number of women-owned businesses with employees in these metro areas grew by 30 percent, compared to a 10 percent growth rate for all firms."

One reason for the surge in female entrepreneurs is the growing awareness that traditional means of funding retirement will not address the news of women in the future. Statistically, women live longer than men but often receive less in retirement benefits.

"The issue of saving enough for retirement is becoming a crisis for the women of America," said Phil Dow, chief equity strategist at RBC Dain Rauscher. "With length of life reaching unprecedented levels and the cost of retirement rising rapidly, saving for retirement is turning into one of the most important issues for women today."

This need to create a larger nest egg has turned many women business owners into risk takers. The Center for Women's Business Research found that women who want to substantially expand their businesses are willing to take the necessary risks to obtain financing.

"This study demonstrates that women are moving into the economic mainstream," Hart said. "They have the skills and business savvy to obtain the growth capital they need to expand their businesses aggressively. They know where to get professional advice, can make a strong case to potential investors and are willing to accept the risks that come with the territory."

And, many women business owners are turning to a more traditional source of funding to start and grow their enterprises. The Small Business Administration said that it funded more than 18,000 loans to women-owned businesses amounting to a record $2.5 billion.

"We have worked hard to reach out to every community and we are seeing the fruits of our labor with these numbers," said Hector Barreto, SBA administrator.

At the same time, more and more female entrepreneurs are doing business with the federal government. The total value of federal contracts to women-owned businesses rose from $6.8 billion to $8.3 billion in the past fiscal year.

While the success of women entrepreneurs is clearly defined by dollars and cents, it also can be measured in other, less mercenary ways. For instance, the National Association of the Self-Employed says that half of the women business owners say they are working harder now than they were five years ago. But, they say it is a trade-off. Most of the women surveyed said their chief motivation is to have more time with their families and community, as well as greater flexibility in managing their households.

"These findings present an important snapshot of women in today's workplace and a look at how the nation's 9.1 million self-employed women are in an all-out pursuit of a more integrated and fulfilling work and personal life than they believe is available in the corporate world," Hughes said.

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