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Women entrepreneurs and business owners on the rise in Ohio

As a little girl, Stephanie Johnston dreamed about owning her own business, but after spending nearly 18 years in the corporate world, including nearly eight years at Owens-Illinois, it seemed as though her career track was becoming defined by Wall Street.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of my time at O-I. But that was no small training ground for me,” Ms. Johnston said. “My dream has always been to own my own business and there was a point where I decided I wanted to do more.”

So in 2016 she left an ascending career at O-I to join R/P Marketing, of Holland, a 30-employee public relations firm specializing in manufacturing, health care, arts, and association work, and two years ago she bought the company from founder Martha Vetter.

“If you want to be innovative, if you want to take risks and do great things, a small business environment is the place to do it,” Ms. Johnston said of her move to become a small business owner. “There’s no clock on your big idea. It’s the place to be to be bold and innovative. It’s the place for women if they want that freedom in their life.”

Apparently, other women feel that way too, because with just a month left in 2019, more female entrepreneurs/business owners have sought help from Ohio’s Small Business Development Centers than their male counterparts.

It marks the first time since the centers were established 34 years ago by the Ohio Development Services Agency that female clients outnumber male ones. According to recent SBDC figures, 51.8 percent of the client load (4,862 clients) are women after 11 months.

Also, 50.1 percent of new business starts supported by the state’s network of 30 Small Business Development Centers were by women. And 54.3 percent of new entrepreneurs applying for help from the centers were women.

Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency and the former mayor of Findlay, said female entrepreneurship has been steadily growing historically throughout the state. Ten years ago, roughly 40 percent of the agency’s clients were women. That rose to 45 percent five years later in 2014 before topping 50 percent this year.

“This is a trend that has been moving in the right direction for some time,” Ms. Mihalik said. “This is not a new phenomenon.”

She added the agency’s female clients are also diverse, with roughly 43 percent of them self-identifying as belonging to a minority group compared to roughly 20 percent a decade ago.

The swing in the pendulum also has been felt at the Toledo Small Business Development Center. In the past five years the female client base has grown from 36 percent to 42.2 percent, figures show.

Bill Wersell, director of the Toledo SBDC said there’s also been changes in attitude and negative views about women owning a business.

Choosing his words carefully, he said there has been resistance in the region, especially in family-owned businesses, of allowing daughters to take the reins or selling an established business to a woman.

“We have had some long-standing family businesses where there was no male heir. In the past, some parents didn’t feel they wanted to pass on the business to the daughter — but that’s been changing,” Mr. Wersell said.

“We’ve had several cases of daughters taking over the family businesses and doing well, or if they’ve been denied, going out and starting their own businesses,” he said.

Jennifer Kearns, owner of Battery Wholesale, an aftermarket battery retailer in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, faced some initial reluctance from her parents when she told them of plans she had for growing the family-owned business.

“I’ll be very honest. We had different ideas for the future of the company. In order for me to grow the business in the way I wanted to and succeed in the long term, I felt it was necessary for me personally to take on that risk,” she said.

So five years ago she and her parents worked out a deal for her to buy the company, which then had six stores. She has since added a seventh store and an online sales channel.

She credits the Toledo SBDC with helping her grow the business in an industry dominated by men.

One thing both Mrs. Kearns and Ms. Johnston found is that there are few financing options for women wanting to start a business or purchase one.

“It was a difficult process. I talked to one [bank] and they said there aren’t any tools for my situation.” Mrs. Kearns said.

“Traditional access is a problem through community banks,” Ms. Johnston agreed. “They are not entrepreneurial in their thinking. They still prefer to work with Fortune 500 companies.”

However, both women said they have gotten assistance from one source — Huntington National Bank, and its Northwest Ohio Region President, Sharon Speyer.

“They really dug in and wanted to know what I was planning,” Ms. Johnston said. “They got what I was trying to accomplish and were willing to partner with me, not only by bringing a financial component, but expertise. … It went beyond ‘Here’s a check, now go run your business,’” she added.

Mrs. Kearns said when her company wanted to expand to Bowling Green, it was “an incredible struggle” to get financing.

“Everything was a ‘no,’ except for Huntington,” she said. “I was grateful for their help, but it was disappointing in that I wasn’t able to shop. There certainly were no other banks or financing avenues laying down in front of me or saying ‘pick me.’”


Posted By: The Toledo Blade on December 4, 2019.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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