State's businesswomen flex their muscles at Stamford-UConn event
A powerful force: Women-owned businesses hit 98,000 in Connecticut
Like millions of other Americans, Beverlee Dacey found that the financial crisis had hit her business at exactly the wrong moment.
Dacey had just taken over operations at Amodex Ink & Stain Remover, the company her parents had started in Bridgeport in 1958. It was floundering, and she stepped in to help turn it around just as the recession weighed down the nation's economy.
"It was hell," Dacey said. "It was a very bad time to take over, and the company wasn't doing very well. But, it's turned around, because we've had so many endorsements and the world of the Internet and social media have turned out to be Amodex's best friend."
Now, with her customers doing much of Amodex's advertising through social media, Dacey can take a more sanguine attitude to her company's past struggles, like those faced by many women at the helm of their own businesses.
Those singular challenges and triumphs often experienced by female entrepreneurs and businesswomen were the focus of Friday's conference, "Connecticut Celebrates Women Entrepreneurs" held at UConn's Stamford campus.
The event featured nearly 70 exhibitors, including women wanting to share their own business with the public, like Dacey, as well as companies and statewide organizations looking to help entrepreneurs get through some of the hurdles of owning a small business.
Representatives from the Stamford Innovation Center, Connecticut Innovations, the Connecticut Technology Council and the state Department of Economic and Community Development, among others, were on hand to present solutions to entrepreneurs.
"Women in particular do a great job when they get in charge of a business," Smith said. "Diversity is the spice of life. I think the turnout today is a great example of how important this is."
The number of women-owned businesses has grown 35 percent in the past 10 years, hitting 98,000 in 2012, according to Mary Holz-Clause, UConn's vice president of economic development.
Female-operated businesses in Connecticut are also ranked 16th in the county in terms of the percentage of increase in sales, higher than both those in New York and New Jersey.
"There's so much great economic potential in Connecticut," Holz-Clause said. "We have to look ahead to see what our future is going to be." UConn is one of the organizations that is honing in on entrepreneurial activity in the region. The school will be the base for a Stamford outpost of the revamped Small Business Development Center, which will set up 10 other locations across the state, including centers in Danbury and Bridgeport.
"All of the organizations that are participating are statewide and regional," Bruhl said. "It's a very broad outreach. It's exciting. We know the demographic wave is on the side of women entrepreneurs."
UConn's conference was also about bolstering morale, letting female entrepreneurs know that the state's government, organizations and companies are behind them, said John Elliot, dean of UConn's Business School. Among the qualities that make entrepreneurs successful, he noted that self-confidence, passion and resilience are paramount.
"One of the things you see in the space is a lot of people taking about ways to help entrepreneurs," Elliot said. "When you look around, you feel the energy. In Connecticut, women are providing a lot of leadership and performing that economic engine that will drive state growth. It's generally something we talk about, that many new jobs we've created here come from small businesses."
Finding that support was crucial for Lina Ariss-Abdo, the founder of Les Cinq Almonds, a 2-year-old Stamford-based company that imports exotic confections from around the world.
Starting the business with her daughter, Arriss-Abdo has grown the business from an online presence to a bricks-and-mortar location, and is now working with American artisans and chocolatiers as well. Each step of the way, however, has brought new difficulties and finding events like UConn's conference, she said, have helped her feel supported as a business owner.
"You have to balance your life as a wife and mother and prove yourself every day," Ariss-Abdo said. "Because everybody doubts that you're going to make it. You're constantly challenged. But, people have also been very supportive. On a personal level, this [event] came at a point where it felt almost like breath of fresh air, that there was an organization that cared about women and supported women."
Some of the hurdles in small business ownership aren't necessarily easy to see in the early stages.
Mary Brewster, owner of online boutique American Flora, said that the process of finding sewers, locating fabric and finding ways to attach the company logo to her clothing, which she sells to local stores, was daunting at first.
"I did a lot of careful research, which was a great help," Brewster, who lives and works in Redding, said.
Brewster also noted that all of her boutique-owning clients, including Crave in Greenwich, are women.
"When you own a small business, people seem to want to help," she said.