By Erica Bray
Once upon a time, women wishing to start a business had to have a male relative co-sign a business loan. This was a common requirement in many states.
As a piece of history, this might not shock you. But here’s something that might: It wasn’t until 1988 that this practice was completely abolished. Yep, 1988. That wasn't so long ago.
Female entrepreneurship has certainly come a long way since that discriminatory hurdle. Today, there are nearly 10 million women-owned business in the U.S. that generate $1.5 trillion in revenue each year.
“We're on this amazing path but still have a long way to go,” says Amanda Brown, executive director of the National Women’s Business Council, a federal advisory board that supports female small business owners. It was established as part of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, which, among other things, eliminated the male co-signer requirement. “There’s an increased appetite for risk [among women], which is obviously so key to entrepreneurship.”
The numbers don’t lie. Women-owned U.S. businesses has increased by 74 percent since 1997, according to the recent State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. What’s more, the number of African American women-owned businesses has climbed by a whopping 322 percent.
Expect numbers to continue to climbing, as top businesses schools are noticing an increase in female enrollment, with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management seeing more female students specifically opting for the “entrepreneurship” track.
“What I’m seeing in our classes now is at least the interest in the starting stages of entrepreneurship are equivalent between men and women,” says Prof. Linda Darragh, who coaches more than 20 student startups participating in Northwestern's MBA program.
This renaissance in female entrepreneurship is the result of a shift in cultural attitudes, elimination of legal hurdles and economic timing. However, another factor is at play: the Internet. For many entrepreneurs, not only women, it’s “cheaper, faster and easier” to start a business online, says Darragh.
And when women take their businesses online, an increasing number of them are blazing trails in yet another way: choosing a "not-com" domain name. Rather than default to 'dot-com' (.com) or 'dot-net' (.net), they are designing a website URL that ends in one of the newest domain extensions available, such as 'dot-world' (.word), 'dot-agency' (.agency) or 'dot-photography' (.photography).
These new options add meaning and memorability to a digital brand in an already-crowded 'dot-com' landscape. It's a relatively new innovation transforming the Internet that's opening up meaningful digital branding opportunities for startups -- and it's something that women are very much trailblazing.
Here are some of those entrepreneurial "not-com" trailblazers, with words of wisdom for the next generation of lady bosses.
Dr. Lisa Aumiller Founder of P.E.T.S. (Pet Emergency Transfer/Taxi Service) Transportation service for HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service www.PETS.cab
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself?I was working for a corporate-feeling veterinary office, and my boss at the time and I disagreed on what vaccines all pets should have. The next day I was fired. I had never been fired, but I had my stethoscope, my microscope and my car. Within one month, Dr. Lisa's Mobile Veterinary Service was up and running. For the first six months, I worked alone. Today we are approaching our sixth year, and I now have 11 vets and 54 support staff serving clients and pets in four counties and two states.
What business milestone have you recently achieved? We grossed $60,000 in our first year and by the end of our fifth year , we grossed $3.4 million dollars.
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap?Don't ever give up. After two years in business, I needed to add hospital space to the mobile clinic. I had 11 banks tell me “No” [for a loan] before I had one bank tell me “Yes.” Don’t settle until the right people come into place. If you are scared to follow your dreams, you will always be wishing instead of doing.
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself? I am very passionate about the environment and creating a solution for the big problem with waste. No one else was doing it, so I decided I would. I wanted to be on the front lines of creating sustainable changes for our world and our future.
What business milestone have you recently achieved?In the past year, we went from three employees to six -- including four to six temp workers.
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap? Follow your heart; but make sure to question everything; and truly think about things all the way through. Ask questions, but realize the perceptions are realities and not everyone has your perception. And most of all, know that through all the trials, you are not alone. Never forget to celebrate your triumphs, no matter how small.
Michelle Goldblum Co-Founder of Soul Camp Adult sleep-away camp with locations in New York and California www.soul.camp
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself? My personal life and my business life were once such opposites of each other. During the day, my life was all about pharmaceutical advertising, hitting numbers, getting more. Outside of work, however, my life was wellness, going inward, wanting less. One day, I woke up and said out loud, I want one life, not two. And that began the trajectory to create a business, a career and a life that was authentically me. I truly believed, and still do, that anything -- everything -- is possible. And with that in mind, I was able to imagine and create a business and life of my dreams!
What business milestone have you recently achieved? We just launched Soul Camp Creative, a new creative agency under the Soul Camp umbrella!
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap?“Be like a seagull. Ride the waves as they ebb and flow. But never forget that you have the ability to fly.”
See Related: Soul.camp: A True Overnight Success
Ann Marie Guenther Founder of Thatgirl Organizes Professional organizing service based just outside of Chicago www.ThatgirlOrganizes.guru
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself? I love seeing space and time utilized so my clients can have more free time. Life is so much easier organized!
What business milestone have you recently achieved? I have seen a rise in my income by 170 percent in the past month. Mark Cuban of "Shark Tank" said the way he got to the top was by hiring people smarter than he is. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and it’s working.
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap? Don’t listen to people who have not had a business. They are too afraid to try and have no business giving advice. Just smile, and walk away.
See Related:How This Woman Can Organize Your Chaos
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself?The general nature of the hospitality business is a lot like Las Vegas: It never stops. This doesn't particularly allow for quality of life beyond career. Entrepreneurship, however, provides us with freedom to put family, friends and hobbies back into the mix.
What business milestone have you recently achieved? We have tripled our staff and doubled our sales over the course of one year. Being chosen as one of the caterers at the VIP Super Bowl Tailgate in 2015 is still a huge honor and accomplishment, too.
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap?Be passionate. Don't measure your success in dollars and cents.
See Related: Super Bowl VIPs Crave This Food -- And You Will, Too
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself?I decided to go into business for myself because I thought being my own boss must be the best way in finding true joy in a job.
What business milestone have you recently achieved? This is my first winter since starting my photography business that I haven't experienced the "slow season,” which is huge for me.
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap? We've all heard it before: Don't be afraid to fail! Starting is the hardest part, and at times you'll feel like you're working for nothing until – BOOM! – suddenly everything starts falling into place.
See Related: Why This Wedding Photographer is All Smiles
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself? The biggest mental barrier for me to start my own business was the fear of failure. So I looked at other famous entrepreneurs. I would read articles, watch their interviews, listen to their speeches and hear about how they took the plunge, how they failed, how they survived. For instance, one of my favorite videos about failure is J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement speech. In my head, I considered all the worst-case scenarios -- and when I knew that I could deal with them, I felt brave enough to take that plunge. I knew that if I didn’t, I would always regret it. I didn’t want to look back at any “what-ifs."
What business milestone have you recently achieved?Since we started in August 2014, we have shipped about 25,000 packages all around the country.
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap?My best advice for entrepreneurs would be to make quantitative, goal-oriented decisions from the very beginning. There’s a lot to do when you start your company, and the best way to prioritize and figure out what to do for your company is to do it based on actual data. So monitor your metrics regularly, know what’s working and what isn’t, and accordingly, what your priority should be.
See Related: Building a Business from the 'Grounds' Up
Nnenna Stella Founder of The Wrap Life A lifestyle brand that sells vibrant head wraps and handmade goods onlinewww.TheWrap.life
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself?I loved the idea of working for myself. I recognized that I work hard for other people and imagined it'd be even easier to do that for myself. I was also inspired by the realization that I'd have all creative control and could pretty much do whatever I wanted in terms of connecting with customers and expressing opinions and ideas.
What business milestone have you recently achieved? I'm super excited that our revenue for 2015 was six times the revenue we generated during our first year in business. We're also moving into a larger space, which is super exciting. I'm eager to partner with other women and grow The Wrap Life as much as possible, while connecting with our customers in an organic way.
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap? Research as much as possible, and let go of the idea that things will be perfect when you start. Set a date and start on that date -- no matter what. There's so much you're going to learn along the way and all of it is very valuable. Also, don't let yourself believe that money is a barrier. Start with what you have. It's also valuable to recognize the many things you already do well. It'll come in handy during those times when you're doubting yourself. I also find that surrounding myself with incredible women helps keep me sane. They inspire and also challenge me to bring my best and not get too comfortable.
See Related: This Opportunity Didn't Just Knock, It Wrapped
What encouraged you to go into business for yourself? I started my first business when I was 19 and have started several more, so it is something I was always comfortable with. When I started Got Produce, I really did it because I saw the need for greater hydroponic use in the agriculture industry. Current systems were not adequately addressing the cost factor or “ease of use” factor, which I felt was important. What really lit my passion was being able to create agriculture systems that greatly reduced water use for many of our perishable crops. This is something that was always important in our model so that communities in arid or drought regions would be able to easily switch to hydroponics.
What business milestone have you recently achieved? This was definitely a milestone year for us. The first was getting our patent from the U.S. Patent Office. It’s hard for startup companies to create value to investors without having tangible ownership of their intellectual property. Receiving the patent after several years’ worth of work is really a great feeling, and it shows that we do offer something unique to the world. We also restructured our development team to include an international division and added four new people. This enables us to better serve the eight countries in which we are building greenhouses and opens doors to new regions across the globe.
What advice do you have for other females looking to make the entrepreneurial leap?When you start your own company, it seems like everyone has advice for you. If you are unsure about what you really want to accomplish, it can be difficult to make key decisions with all the extra opinions. Make sure you understand your priorities and the reason you are starting the business. This sounds like simple advice, but it can generate some of the toughest questions.