The Rise of the Womanpreneur

women entrepreneursWhen you hear the word “entrepreneur,” what image does your mind conjure up? A young, ambitious techie like Mark Zuckerberg? A seasoned vet like Steve Jobs? How about this, did you think of an ambitious young woman?

Although women are beginning to establish themselves more and more as business leaders, we still have a lot of catching up to do. According to the 2007 edition of the U.S. Census, women owned just 28.7% of all businesses. Yes, that number is changing — between 1997 and 2007, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 44%, and from 2009 to 2010, the percentage of women involved in startups increased from 5% to 5.6%. But what is finally causing this shift? And why didn’t it occur sooner?

Melinda Wittstock, founder of the Capitol News Connection and NewsiT, recently told the Huffington Post that she believed it was because women entrepreneurs are thinking outside the traditional venture capital box. “We’re coming up with different business models that don’t fit the [venture capital] pattern.”

Wittstock may be onto something. Etsy, the crafter’s dream marketplace, has made selling unique seller-created products as easy as uploading a photo. Because sellers don’t have to deal with overhead costs, like they would were they to establish a brick-and-mortar boutique, more are given the chance to see their business dreams through. And although the products sold on the site range from cosmetics to clothing to original art, an incredible 95% of sellers on Etsy are women.

The rise of small business contests in recent years has also given more opportunities to entrepreneurs trying to avoid the traditional VC route, and women entrepreneurs have stepped up to the challenge. One look at the contestants in the Small Business Challenge $50K Giveaway reveals some serious women contenders. Chicago’s own Erica Bethe Levin and Jessica Zweig from CheekyChicago.com and Hope Bertram from Digital Megaphone have entered the contest with the hope of expanding their already successful businesses and have seen great support from voters.

In addition to those less traditional methods, there are also many organizations that cater to helping women-owned businesses succeed. Springboard Enterprises is a platform that allows women innovators, influencers and investors to connect, and the Chicago-based Women’s Business Development Center offers workshops to startup founders, new businesses and established businesses looking to grow. With these and many more workshops and tools available, I’m interested and anxious to see how the number of women business owners continues to grow.

Looking to make your start? Find inspiration in some of our Chicago startups. Or learn how to get big pledges for your own project on Kickstarter.