Entrepreneurs Aim for Million-Dollar Revenue Gap

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Julie Goldman

(WOMENSENEWS)–This month and last–both big wedding months–Julie Goldman’s Original Runner Company has been rolling in the revenue, with projected increases of about 25 percent compared to last year.

The New York producer of non-stick, non-paper decorative carpets for wedding aisles projects revenue of $850,000 this year after $625,000 in 2007.

And that’s exactly where Goldman is supposed to be projecting her revenue around now, given that she was among nine female entrepreneurs who won a Make Mine a Million contest in New York last October.

The event, sponsored primarily by OPEN from American Express, did not actually bestow a million dollars on the winners. Instead it provided them with a package–office equipment, consulting, and loans and credit arrangements–to help them reach that revenue goal.

In keeping with that, Goldman is eyeing $1.1 million in 2009, with an expansion to both a European and wholesale division. Her staff of eight will soon grow to 10.

OPEN from American Express is advising her on her wholesale expansion. "I have a huge way to go in capturing the market," she says.

The Make Mine a Million event was run by Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, a New York nonprofit that runs approximately 12 such events around the country each year. Its CEO and founder, Nell Merlino, started the group in 1999 to help boost more female-owned businesses across the million-dollar revenue mark.

Revenue Gap at the Top

The number of businesses more than half-owned by women has grown by more than 40 percent between 1997 and 2006, almost double that of the overall business growth rate, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, a nonprofit institute based in Washington, D.C. However, only 3 percent of all female-owned businesses have revenues of over $1 million, which is half the percentage of those owned by men, according to the center’s data.

During the Make Mine a Million contest Goldman and about 30 other contestants stood in neat rows, mostly clad in classic heels and suits, and waited for their chance to wow the judges.

During one presentation, a public relations executive talked about targeting Latinos. In another presentation a staffing pro talked about her company’s mission to help mothers re-enter the paid work force.

The mostly-female audience in the large auditorium oohed and aahed equally whether the presenters discussed dark chocolate, auto-body shops, biodegradable nail polish or healthy school lunches.

When it was Goldman’s turn, she described attending a wedding, noticing an unsightly paper runner going down the aisle and then confirming later that there was room underfoot in the bridal party merchandise market.

In her presentation she emphasized her chances of attracting media attention, which panned out last month, in the form of a People magazine article in May where her runners were featured as part of the celebrity nuptials of pop stars Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz.

Pushing Revenue Envelope

Merlino, who produced the immensely successful Take Our Daughters to Work Day for the Ms. Foundation for Women in 1993, conceived the Make Mine a Million events as opportunities for rising female entrepreneurs to not only compete, but also meet and trade tips.

While golf driving ranges and power lunches often serve that purpose for male entrepreneurs, many women say they are drawn to female-focused organizations like Count Me In for a combination of moral support and practical advice.

Goldman says that while she benefited greatly from her prize winnings, she also profited from simply being at the event. Other business owners and Count Me In staffers at the event, for instance, talked to her about better ways to delegate day-to-day tasks so she could concentrate more on expanding her business.

Goldman and other finalists also say the acceptance they find in the Make Mine a Million audience isn’t so easily achieved elsewhere.

"I think people think what I do is silly," says Goldman. "I do have a doctorate from an Ivy League school, I work in big industry, but people say ‘that’s so sweet, a little business.’ They think I have a wife business, the local antique. I do find that to be an interesting challenge."

Make Mine a Million hosts regional and state events in cities around the United States about once a month, sometimes more.

The current season wound up with contests this past month in New Jersey and Seattle and the next series of events will start up again in September.

Expanding Ranks

The growing numbers of female entrepreneurs include many who have broken into male-dominated fields such as construction and technology.

But there are also plenty of women like Goldman who have targeted what they see as overlooked consumers: themselves and their friends.

Kira Wampler, the marketing leader of Intuit’s JumpUp.com, a Web portal for entrepreneurs, has studied trends among female entrepreneurs, particularly those with children still at home. "Women are very attuned and sensitive to their community," she says. "Many start businesses that are related to community, to other women or in particular, to children."

One of the big things driving women to launch is also what Wampler dubs the "in my kitchen, there’s no glass ceiling" motto.

Beth Schoenfeldt, co-founder of Ladies Who Launch, a nationwide online and in-person networking company for female business owners based in New York, agrees. "When you have your own business you work harder, but on your own terms," she says. "It’s up to you. You are the master of your destiny."

Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer in New York.

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