Patricia Cobe

MINNEAPOLIS (WOMENSENEWS)–Bobbi Jo Toy Schwagel always wanted to run her own business. She networked for years in her hometown of Eau Claire, Wis., so that when she created Toy Communication in 1995, she had a long clientele list. Her company is a combination of business coaching and personal growth assistance.

“I help individuals improve communication in the home and the workplace,” said Schwagel. “It’s what I was meant to do: help people. I love what I have created

Schwagel is part of the growing trend known as “momprenuers,” a term coined by Ellen Parlapiano and Patricia Cobe, authors of “Momprenuers Online: Using the Internet to Build Work-at-Home Success.”

“Women are more educated and highly skilled than ever before,” said Cobe. “They are taking their ideas and turning them into successful businesses.”

The number of those business successes is on the rise. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, of the 3.5 million home-based, women-based businesses in the United States, 2.1 million are run by women with children.

Flexibility a Major Factor

One of Schwagel’s motivations in continuing her own business is her 4-year-old son, Timmy. Her business allows her to take him to preschool or the library. She also reserves most Mondays to spend with him.

“It allows me to be flexible,” Schwagel said. “I can create my own schedule.”

Flexibility ranked as a top reason for women starting their own businesses, according to a 1998 study by the Center for Women’s Business Research. While still working long hours, these women can work their schedules around the naptimes or school activities of their children.

“It comes from hitting that glass ceiling, or concrete ceiling, based on your field,” said Wendy Werkmeister, president of the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation. “As entrepreneurs, women know it’s all on their own shoulders. They can have a kind of flexibility that they didn’t have in corporate America.”

The corporate environment was another reason for the rise in mom-owned businesses, according to the study. While men tend to be lauded when they leave a meeting to pick up their children, women are criticized.

“Women business owners are more likely to report having experienced specific frustrations in their work environment than men business owners and these factors have increased in recent years,” said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, a nonprofit women’s business organization.

Helping More Than Just Mothers

These small businesses are making a significant contribution to the economy.

“Women business owners create jobs at twice the rate of their male counterparts,” said Werkmeister. “Two-thirds of jobs created are at small businesses. When you combine those numbers, you see some great things.”

With more resources becoming available to women, the trend could continue. There are women’s business centers sponsored by the Small Business Administration in each state. Venture-capital groups are sprouting up regularly and banks are joining in. In Milwaukee, Associated Bank has created a women’s banking division. Kevin Jones, director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said half of his telephone inquiries about starting businesses come from women.

“Women are more likely to ask for help, compared to their male counterparts,” said Jones.

Many organizations also aim to assist women with classes, business plans and mentors. Minnesota-based WomenVenture, started in 1977, is one of those organizations. Its original goal was to help women become self-sufficient. Now, it’s helping women reach for loftier goals.

“We don’t want them just on the water line,” said Jan Jordet, vice president of programs at WomenVenture. “We want them surfing. If you’re barely above the water, than even a small wave can pull you under.” More women are riding that wave, although they do need to work to avoid isolation.

Keeping Up with Networking

“When women are working out of their homes, they need to make that extra effort to network,” said Werkmeister.

To network and gain business skills, many women entrepreneurs turn to organizations such as Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley Women Entrepreneurs. For many members, the organization serves as a sounding board.

Tracey Newhouse, owner of the home-based skin-care line Intaca Solutions and mother of three, is an active member. She turned to the organization to help her develop a business plan and to keep her creative.

“It provides extra motivation,” said Newhouse, of Eau Claire, Wis. “When you have a boss to report to, that’s enough motivation to get you up in the morning. When you work for yourself, you sometimes need something that will give you an extra push.”

Some corporate executives say they’re paying attention to the number of women leaving their companies–and planning changes so they don’t push too many of them out the door.

“It is vitally important that large companies understand why women may consider entrepreneurship over corporate careers, in order to create an environment within corporate America that is responsive to their needs,” said Heidi Miller, chief financial officer of Travelers Group, which sponsored the entrepreneur study for the Center for Women’s Business Research.

Still, Newhouse encourages women to give their own ideas a try.

“It can make a dream come true,” she said.

Kimberly Wilmot Voss has been a journalist for the past decade. She is a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

For more information:

Small Business Administration’s Online Women’s Business Center
(In English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Icelandic and Arabic):

Forum for Women Entrepreneurs:

National Association of Women Business Owners: