Womenetics: Helping women succeed in business

By the time Elisabeth Marchant launched Womenetics] in 2009, the numbers proving female-owned businesses play a significant role in the economy were already in the making.

A 2010 report estimated that 8 million businesses -- or 28 percent of all U.S. businesses -- were owned by women, and that those businesses created or maintained 16 percent of all jobs in certain industries such as business services, personal services, retail, health care, communications and real estate.

"What's been nice for us is I didn't have to make any of this up," Marchant said. "The statistics have been documented."

In Georgia, female-owned firms increased 11/2 times the national average between 1997 and 2011.

The downside, Marchant said, was those same numbers proved what she knew instinctively: Women had a long way to go to gain parity.

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Only 4.2 percent of all revenue and 6 percent of all jobs are generated by businesses owned by women in the United States, the report found.

Why?

“Because women-owned businesses aren’t getting funded or supported at the same levels as other businesses, so the full economic potential of their businesses isn’t being realized,” Marchant said.

And so for the past two years, Marchant has worked to expose and close this gap.

In keeping with her efforts, Womenetics will host a half-day conference called "Turning Vision into Value" on Thursday at the Cobb Energy Center.

Marchant said the goal of the conference, now in its second year, is threefold: first, to provide information about funding that women heretofore haven’t been able to access; second, to provide them the opportunity to hear from seasoned female business owners, what their struggles and successes have been and how they can use those lessons to build their own businesses; and third, to host a resource fair that will spotlight the dozens of organizations in metro Atlanta, such as the Small Business Administration, that support female-owned businesses.

“Womenetics believes business is no longer about women starting and staying small,” Marchant said. “We also have to improve their chances for success and increase their financial impact.”

Providing connections

Long before Marchant founded Womenetics, the former CEO of Leader’s Publishing had become restless about the absence of women in business and the struggles of those who were.

And so it hit Marchant that professional women could benefit from a business media platform that could connect them across the globe and respond quickly to what was happening around the world.

She wanted to provide a venue where women could build meaningful relationships with thoughtful leaders making a difference.

While it doesn't pretend to be Oprah Winfrey, Marchant said Womenetics is a media business serving two constituencies: the female business professional and the companies that employ women.

But she said Womenetics isn’t about a big group hug for women. It’s about moving the needle forward so women can reach their full potential.

“That’s an economic imperative,” Marchant said.

Finding support

If the organization's recent POW Award luncheon, which drew some 650 men and women, is any indication, Womenetics is already making a huge impact.

The annual luncheon focuses on the idea of POW, the organization's term for women who are purposeful, intentional and “forces of nature.”

“Women from corporations, [the] nonprofit, entertainment and public policy arena were all there,” Marchant said. “We had to close the door because we were at full capacity.”

Mary Parker, president and CEO of All(n)1 Security Services, and Nancy Juneau, CEO of Juneau Construction, are prime examples of the owners Womenetics is hoping to help.

Parker, a 2010 POW honoree, founded her security business in 2001 after leaving another firm with no exit plan.

“I didn't realize the emotional impact of my decision until New Year's Day,” she said. “I realized that everyone would go back to work that week and I didn't have a job.”

Today, Parker said, the Atlanta-based company employs more than 200 people in four states and is planning to expand into other U.S. and international markets.

“We are the only nationally certified African-American female-owned full-service security provider in the country,” Parker said.

Juneau started her construction company in February 1997 shortly after the big construction boom for the ’96 Olympics.

“We had many folks tell us it would be a terrible time to start a construction company,” she said.

Juneau said, however, that she and her husband had had enough of working for other people.

Although funding and bonding insurance was hard to come by, they made it work. Today the Cobb County construction company is ranked sixth among the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s top 25 female-owned companies in the city.

Parker, who started All(n)1 in her kitchen, said that being a woman in a male-dominated environment has been her biggest challenge by far.

By establishing a stellar track record in performance, she managed to overcome not only gender stereotypes but race as well. Getting over the funding hurdle has not been as easy.

She said access to capital continues to be an issue for women and minority-owned businesses.

“Although women hold top positions in Fortune 100 and 500 companies across America, in government agencies, including the White House, we’re still perceived as not being strong enough, assertive enough, or do not understand financial management,” Parker said.

“That’s the conundrum,” said Ellen Adair Wyche, Womenetics’ director of strategy and programs.

It helps, Parker said,  to know that Marchant and Womenetics support what women are doing.

“Elisabeth Marchant is certainly no stranger to women in Atlanta,” Parker said. “Along with many of my colleagues, we consider Elisabeth a friend to women-owned businesses.”

And although women put together thorough business plans, Marchant said they rarely ask for enough money because they don't have the confidence.

But that’s where Womenetics comes in. It fans the flames of women’s dreams.

“We are 100 percent focused on the business woman,” Marchant said. “We’re talking about this huge talent pool that is not being tapped.”

At the POW luncheon in May, the keynote speaker said that economists are saying forget China, forget India, forget the Internet. Women are the economic drivers.

“It’s extremely exciting that Georgia ranks first in women-owned businesses,” Marchant said. “But what we continue to ask is what can we do to support those businesses and take them from passion to profitability, generate more revenue and create more jobs?”

If you go

What: Entrepreneurs Symposium: "Turning Vision into Value"

When: 7:30-11:45 a.m. June 23

Where: The Cobb Energy Centre

For more information: Call 404-816-7224 or log onto www.womenetics.com/events/details/31-entrepreneurs-2011-turning-vision-into-value

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