Women entrepreneurs overcoming obstacles

By Marissa Higdon and Kayla Root/ NM News Port

Like many other women in entrepreneurship, Lisa Adkins has overcome some obstacles along her way to success, often related to her gender.

Ever since Adkins started her first business, she has had to fight against stigmas and stereotypes to be seen as a capable worker who is equal to her male counterparts.

Her first business, started in partnership with her husband, was an IT business. He was the software developer, she was the CEO.

“I was the face of the company. I was the marketing. I was the HR. I was the back office. I was the janitor,” Adkins said

“It was a very successful company. When I sold it, it had 19 employees and over $3 million in revenue.”

When the two decided to get a divorce, Adkins says, he claimed all her success was his doing. So she set out to prove him, and any other non-believers, wrong.

Since then, Adkins has started a number of her own businesses and now works as COO of FatPipe ABQ, a collaborative community space for entrepreneurs and small businesses. She is also COO of The BioScience Center, a business incubator for startups in biotechnology and related fields.

Adkins says much of her success was achieved despite the presence of discrimination against women in the workplace.

“There is still, to this day, [the idea] in our workplace, that women can’t do as good of a job as men. We’re still not listened to in the boardroom. We still can’t find funding for our businesses as easily as men can. We’re still not given the opportunities that white men are given,” she said. “We’re still not represented on boards, and it’s surprising to me that that stuff is still happening in this day and age.”

Women in the workplace

Recently, the number of women owned businesses has increased. Statistics by Fox Business show that in 2014, there were more than 9.1 million women-owned businesses operating in country, up from 8.6 million in 2013. This growth has helped generate nearly $1.5 trillion in revenues for women-owned businesses.

Yet, compared to men, women have launched fewer startups. The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2014, women opened 36.8 percent of new businesses.

“Women entrepreneurs typically have a much harder time starting a business because the types of businesses they launch aren’t usually what the investors are interested in,” said Jessica Mathews, an Albuquerque-based women’s business coach.

“Women create businesses that solve problems. For example, a woman might have an idea for a new stroller because she didn’t like the stroller she used for her kid,” Mathews said. “These consumer-based companies don’t get as much attention from investors as the tech companies do.”

Women entrepreneurs also have a harder time getting loans from banks due to lower credit scores, Mathews said in an interview regarding Hautepreneurs, an organization, co-founded by Mathews, which builds a supportive network for women entrepreneurs across New Mexico.

In 2014, a Senate report found that women receive only 4 percent of the total value of all conventional small business loans. Similarly, female-led startups receive just 7 percent of all venture capital funding.

Venture capital, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, is a way for startup companies to make money by selling shares of their emerging or future business. Because smaller startups often don’t have to ability to seek capital from more traditional sources, such as public markets and banks, venture capital funding is an important tool for many entrepreneurs.

A 2013 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that pitches delivered by men were 60 to 70 percent more likely to be funded than pitches delivered by women, even when the content of the pitch was exactly the same.

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Working towards change

In Albuquerque, women entrepreneurs are working hard to overcome this gender gap in entrepreneurship and make it easier for fellow women looking to create start ups and get involved in the business community.

Adkins has helped launch the Albuquerque chapter of Girl, Develop it, a program that offers tech classes for women. The idea is to create a non-judgemental environment that allows any woman over the age of 18 to learn highly marketable tech skills.

“I want to teach women how to code and I want to help them get jobs or create companies,” Adkins said. “There’s a lot of companies that will tell you, right here in Albuquerque, that there’s no tech talent. So we’re trying to change that. There is tech talent. We’re developing it and it’s going to be women. And you’re going to want to hire them.”

Another local attempt to empower women is the event InnovateHER, sponsored by the Small Business Administration, a national organization that offers support to small businesses. InnovateHER is a national competition where participants, both men and women, showcase and pitch innovative ideas meant to positively impact women and families. Entries are judged based on the possible impact on women and families, potential for commercialization and if the product will fill a need in the marketplace.

Albuquerque’s competition was sponsored by New Mexico Community Capital, FatPipe ABQ and the Central New Mexico Community College STEMulus Center, and took place on Nov. 13 at Matanza Craft Beer Kitchen.

Why women?

Debby Kurzic, a local entrepreneur, says that since she began working in Albuquerque about 20 years ago, support systems for women entrepreneurs have become more common.

Kurzic’s document management company, Records and Data Management, Inc., has been highly successful. While Kurzic says there is a massive gender gap in tech based businesses, she says she has never felt truly discriminated against as a woman.

“There’s still a very big difference gap there,” she says. “But I’ve always felt, you know, pretty respected by everybody.”  

Kurzic says she sees entrepreneurship as an important way to empower women. The skills learned by women going into business are important in everyday life, as well as in the workplace.  

“I think that it’s really important for women to  learn how to be independent and strong, regardless of whether they’re going into business for themselves or not,” she says.

Women, according to Adkins, are also valuable workers who deserve an equal opportunity to achieve entrepreneurial success.

“We’re good organizers. We’re good team players. We’re a good compliment to any team, especially male-led teams. That’s why we need to encourage women to join the forces of entrepreneurship,” she says. “We’re great people to have on your team.”

Read our profile of Adkins here.

Follow Kayla and Marissa on Twitter: @kaylamroot and @MarissaHigdon.