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Rochester sees surge in female entrepreneurs

Kristie Moore likes being her own boss.

As the owner of a Rochester staging and styling start-up, Soul Purpose Home, Moore has always enjoyed the problem-solving riddle at the heart of creating a business: Discovering a need and then finding a business solution to it.

“That’s always excited me,” Moore said.

Being your own boss can also be pressure-filled and lonely. You wear all the hats. There is no playbook or manual. 

“It’s all on you,” she said. 

But unlike previous generations, Moore is far from alone. Earlier this year, Moore witnessed the surge in women entrepreneurs in the area when she attended a Women Entrepreneurs (WE) Forum organized by Saint Mary’s University’s Kabara Institute and found herself surrounded by a community of like-minded women.

Today’s wave of Rochester area female entrepreneurs are creating an energy and momentum as well as a new engine of economic growth in the area. And their example is forging an ever-widening path for women.

“There is a rising momentum in the number of women taking risks and forging their own way, ” Moore said. “And with that momentum, it has been encouraging for women to step out where they haven’t before.”

Between 2014 and 2019, the number of female-owned businesses climbed 21 percent to a total of nearly 13 million nationwide, according to a study commissioned by American Express. And while no comparable data exists for Rochester, anecdotal evidence suggests a similar surge is taking place here. 

The PB looked at the experiences of three Rochester women — owners of a technology business, a staging and styling company and a life coach business. 

The turnabout has been relatively recent. When Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce president Kathleen Harrington arrived at the chamber, she noticed a lack of support for female-owned businesses, but a large appetite among women for information. 

Today, women are seizing opportunities in a more resource-rich environment. A women’s forum sponsored by the chamber draws as many as 45 women each month. When the chamber launched its Shop Local First campaign last fall, it was women looking to polish their entrepreneurial skills who made up the lion’s share of attendees.

Christine Beech, director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, said today’s entrepreneurial ranks are filled with women, but many are uncertain about how to go about it. That became the genesis for Kabara’s WE forums, which filled the room. 

“Oftentimes — and we know this through the research — women are hesitant to ask questions in a mixed forum,” Beech said. “That might make them look like they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Today’s female business owners are more collaborative and supportive of each other, Beech said. In the 1970s and ’80s, when women became a force in the workplace, they often tried to “act like one of the guys” and distanced themselves from other women. 

“In the last decade, we’ve really started to see a push to say, ‘We’re stronger together. Let’s create opportunities to learn from each other,” Beech said.

Harrington said female entrepreneurs can be a diverse lot. They include owners of established businesses that don’t identify as female-owned. They can also include women engaged in what Harrington calls the “side hustle.”

These are women who are starting businesses at the kitchen table even as they work and raise a family, hoping eventually to make their start-up a full-time enterprise.

Despite the challenges women encounter in raising capital, female-owned businesses are proliferating, fueled by a growing awareness of opportunities. 

“I think historians will probably say, ‘this was the reaction to some glass ceiling experiences, and women really wanting to be their own bosses,'” Harrington said.

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