In focus: 100 female entrepreneurs in 100 days

Once upon a time, female entrepreneurs were hard to come by. Women were not all that interested in starting their own businesses, or so the theory went. They were seen as risk averse, lacking access to start-up capital and saddled with biological timelines that made it difficult to start a business and a family.

But in recent years, female entrepreneurs have become a powerful force in the US economy. Today, more than 9m women own businesses there, representing about 40 per cent of all enterprises in the country, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

Between 1997 and 2011, when the number of businesses in the US increased by 34 per cent, the number of female-owned companies grew by 50 per cent, according to the American Express Open Small Business Monitor. The census bureau predicts that by 2025, the proportion of female entrepreneurship will pass 55 per cent. Many women who would like an opportunity to own a company may be motivated by these statistics.

September 6 marks the launch of a web-based initiative that celebrates female entrepreneurs. The 100×100 Project, headed by Jean Brittingham, a strategy consultant for Fortune 100 companies and a faculty member of the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge, will feature a daily profile of a female owner of a small business for the next 100 days.

Brittingham says the idea was born out of frustration with conventional media coverage on the topic of women in business.

“There’s a lot out there about the barriers to women starting businesses: women have a fear of failure; they don’t know how to write a business plan; they’re too risk averse; they don’t have access to mentors and capital,” she says.

“Entrepreneurship magazine has a woman on the cover maybe twice a year. So we wanted to look at the women who have made it work.”

Each day, the website will feature a video interview with a woman in “the entrepreneurial ecosystem”, says Brittingham. The women, who range in age from 18 to 84, will explain how they got their ideas and offer practical advice on writing a business plan, raising money and making a business work. They represent 25 different industries, including the media, industrial drilling, fashion and technology.

Among those who will be interviewed are Barbara Lynch, the Boston-based chef and restaurateur; Judi Missett, the founder and chief executive of Jazzercise, the health and fitness franchise company; Ce Ce Chin, the founder of 80%20 Shoes; and Carolyn Sawyer, president and chief executive of the Tom Sawyer Company, the marketing and communications business.

Says Brittingham: “Women represent a significant resource for economic recovery and a powerful source of sustainable growth. This is a movement, and we’re trying to call more attention to it.”

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