How do female entrepreneurs in northeast Indiana find connections and support?

“When I first started, I wanted everything to be perfect.”

Dr. Danee Pye, Founder and Organizational strategist of Common People United, expresses a feeling she thinks many female entrepreneurs share as they venture into business ownership.

The stresses of entering a corporate world traditionally dominated by men is daunting to many women, but over time, Pye has noticed some of the challenges are becoming easier. Andie Hines

“I was afraid to put anything out into the world that I wasn't 100 percent sure of, and I was extremely concerned with what other people would think and say about me and my ‘baby’ (her business),” she says. “At some point, I got too busy to care as much about that.”

For Pye, the growing success of her venture helped her overcome the initial stress and intimidation of female entrepreneurship. Across the U.S., female entrepreneurs have been making major strides in the male-dominated corporate world.

AMEX’s 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses report says the number of businesses that are at least 51 percent owned, operated, and controlled by one or more women increased from 402,000 in 1972 to 12.3 million in 2018.

The report also found that in the last 11 years, the number of U.S. businesses increased by 12 percent while the number of women-owned businesses surged 58 percent.

Today, four out of every 10 businesses in the United States are women-owned. Women-owned firms employ some 9.2 million people, and their revenues have grown to $1.8 trillion.

But while women across the country are finding more entrepreneurial support and community, women starting their own businesses in the Fort Wayne area are still scarce.

Locally, only 5 percent of Allen County business owners are women. So how do new female entrepreneurs in northeast Indiana find connections and support? Many are starting or joining organizations specifically to support and mentor other women entrepreneurs.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation hosted a breakfast for women in business in Fort Wayne.

To simplify the process, a nonprofit called Own Your Success, or OYS, was founded in 2014 to offer access to resources and to support female entrepreneurs. What started as a lunch appointment with a small group of friends has since grown into a group of more than 400 businesswomen.

Stephanie Martin, owner of A Chance Re-Employment and Training Agency, LLC, is a current member of OYS. She says that navigating the world of entrepreneurship was difficult when she started her business this year.

“The biggest challenges were finding out all the governmental guidelines needed to make sure I stayed in compliance and didn’t get fines, as well time-management,” she says. “I am a single mom who is still currently working my full-time job and running my business individually.”

But rather than let these obstacles discourage her, Martin was able to find community and financial support to make her work easier and more cost-effective.

“I was blessed to have met some great people who have been monumental in helping me with community connections,” she says. “I was also able to apply for a grant, which helped me with some of my business expenses, while also offering me the opportunity to have great mentors and connections.”

Alison Gerardot, Director of Philanthropic Services with the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, sees organizations like OYS as a critical part of building up the regional support network for entrepreneurs.

“After a recent trip to Detroit with Greater Fort Wayne Inc., and conversations with many local leaders and citizens, it is obvious that we, as a community, need a much stronger network of entrepreneurial wraparound services to support, advance, teach and connect,” Gerardot says.

Creating an inclusive environment for entrepreneurs of all types in northeast Indiana is key to building an innovative, creative community. Although the region still has a long way to go, Jami Thomas, Director of Investor Services & Programs at Greater Fort Wayne Inc., is impressed with the changing dynamics she sees in the Fort Wayne area business community.

“Based on conversations I’ve had, I think the number of woman entrepreneurs hasn’t changed much, but the women who are starting businesses are doing some incredible things,” Thomas says. “I also notice more husband-and-wife teams starting businesses together, where in the past, the husbands tended to start the businesses as individuals.”

Management Consultant Emily Bermes, CEO of Emily Bermes + Associates, points out that she experienced some resistance when initially discussing her business ambitions in 2000, but there is hope for the future thanks to those who came before her.

“There’s clearly still work to do to get women entrepreneurs to the next level,” Bermes says. “But I credit previous generations of risk-takers who really have paved the way for business owners like me.”

Own Your Success

Own Your Success is a nonprofit in Fort Wayne whose mission is to grow the number of women-owned businesses in northeast Indiana by providing women with a supportive peer community. OYS is dedicated to the nurturing, growth, and development of women entrepreneurs through coaching, mentoring, seminars, social events, and an innovative, entrepreneurial environment. It seeks to remove barriers for entrepreneurial women to help them create successful, sustainable businesses.

To learn more, visit the Facebook page.

Full Disclosure: The writer, Andie Hines, is the Founder and Executive Director of Own Your Success.

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