The Surge in Female Entrepreneurs

The number of women-owned businesses is booming, according to a new survey

Wall Street has taken a battering, unemployment is up, and the economy continues its struggle to sustain even modest expansion. But there is one area where growth is undeniable: the burgeoning number of women-owned businesses. According a recent report compiled by the Center for Women's Business Research (CWBR), the U.S. now boasts 10.1 million businesses in which women hold at least a 50% interest. Here's another way of looking at that statistics: If you were to pick 11 women at random from the phone book, one of them would be an entrepreneur.

Women-owned outfits employ some 18.1 million people and generate $2.32 trillion in annual sales, the survey found. "These firms represent a substantial portion -- 46% -- of all privately held businesses," notes Myra M. Hart, Harvard Business School professor and chair of Center for Women's Business Research.


  Rather than sheer numbers, however, it is the growth of women-owned businesses that speaks most eloquently of the accelerating trend in female entrepreneurship. Between 1997 and 2002, CWBR's research shows that women-owned businesses surged by 11%, more than 1.5 times the rate for all privately-held startups (6%). Meanwhile, their workforces increased by 18% -- more than twice the overall national average of 8%. Sales were up 32% in the same period, vs. an overall increase of 24%.

"As business owners, we are an increasingly dynamic part of the economy in every city in the U.S. But most of all, this information shows that for women, the dream of entrepreneurship can be a viable reality," says Renee Jones, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, which underwrote the survey with Pitney Bowes and and Wells Fargo.

If there is a downside to the advances women have made, it is that there appears to be relatively little in the way of middle ground between large outfits and the micro ones. A mere 4.3% of women-owned businesses boast revenues in excess of $1 million, and just 0.2% have 100 or more employees. A lot of progress, true -- but further yet to go.

By Roger Franklin in New York

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