Women-Owned Businesses: Sharing the Challenges & Rewards

Women make up about 50% of the population, but when it comes to the work world, women leaders and founders of businesses are drastically under represented. Research conducted by McKinsey & Company, Scientific American and other sources showed that companies benefit from a diverse group of people and that companies with women leaders create more successful outcomes.

Research from an American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses in 2016 found that there were 11.3 million women-owned firms in the US, employing nearly nine million people and generating $1.6 trillion in revenue. Over the past nine years, this research highlighted that women-owned businesses have grown at a rate five times faster than the national average and represent 38% of the country’s businesses.

Many female entrepreneurs bootstrap their businesses, since finding sources to fund their growth presents a major challenge. Female entrepreneurs start companies with 50% less capital than male entrepreneurs. A Fortune article published in March 2016 stated that women-led companies made up only 4.94% of all venture capital (VC) deals in 2016 and women-led companies received 2.19% of VC funding in dollars. However, female loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 2016 were up 36%, with $3.8 billion loaned to women to start or grow a business.

Most often, women develop businesses in areas where they identify a need that is not being met, and they create a new product or solution to address that need. The SBA states that “Mompreneurs” who develop and launch a business while caring for their kids, make up about one in three of women-owned businesses. “Mompreneurs” can easily identify opportunities for innovative new products as they observe first–hand their children and their children’s friends playing and learning. With a built-in focus group, they create and launch innovative new products including toys, food, clothing, accessories and baby items, or they may even open a toy store.

I am thrilled to be moderating the Women in Toys (WIT)/ASTRA panel: How to Leverage Being a Woman in Business. WIT’s mission is to empower women by giving them the support needed to succeed in their careers and businesses. This panel is comprised of women business owners who will share their stories of making it in the business world.

Laurie Peterson of Build & Imagine and Marcia Haut of SmartNoggin Toys are leaders at women-owned toy manufacturing companies. Toy store owners Anita Demetropoulos of Island Treasure Toys and Hilary Key of The Toy Chest curate their stores to provide a product mix that keeps their customers coming back. All successful business owners, they will share the risks and opportunities to grow their businesses.

These four women share a common theme—understanding the power of play and toys as tools in children’s development. Ultimately the manufacturer and the retailer have the same goal: to sell products that appeal to the child—the primary user as well as to the parent—the primary purchaser.

L. PetersonLaurie Peterson set her sights on being a scientist and was on an engineering track with only four other females at her university when she shifted her major to focus on computer-generated arts. Stints at LeapFrog and an advertising agency followed. She earned an MBA in Entrepreneurship, which led her to explore how she could create an engaging building toy for girls without electronics. With the assistance of a Kickstarter campaign and angel funding, she launched Build & Imagine in 2014 at New York Toy Fair. Her building system taps into a familiar girl play pattern and incorporates STEM learning.

M. Haut.jpgWorking as an early intervention therapist to children birth-3 years old with delayed visual tracking skills, Marcia Haut used a light-up golf ball to address their learning challenges. In 2012, she created the NogginStik, a developmental light-up rattle. Her initial plan was to sell it to pediatricians. She showed it to a few toy stores and before she knew it, she was running a toy business with a product that was flying off the shelves.

Anita Demetropoulos.jpgIn 2002, Anita Demetropoulos was seeking high-quality toys for her 3-year-old who attended a Waldorf school. When she found the unique toys she desired, Anita launched an on-line store, and with the toy inventory taking up space in her home, she started a small toy store. Anita has survived the ups and downs of life in retail and now owns and runs three stores in Maine.

H. Key.jpgHilary Key was pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience in 2013 when after spending time with a little girl in West Africa she decided to abandon her studies. Her experiences with young children ledher to an interest in the toy industry, and before she knew it, she was working at a classic, small town toy store in a tourist town. She bought the store in 2014 and purchased another mall-based toy store a year later in a college town.

These female entrepreneurs will share their personal stories of the challenges they faced and how they took advantage of opportunities to grow their businesses. Join us at Marketplace & Academy on Tuesday morning (6/27) at 8:30am for our lively conversation.


D. de Sherbinin.jpg

Deb de Sherbinin, the founder and principle of newly-launched Perk Consulting, has deep experience in product innovation, brand development and marketing. Throughout her career she has thrived on the challenges of ‘getting it right’ with product concepts, brand development, marketing strategy and product launches. She founded Perk Consulting as an expansion of her marketing and product consultancy KidSmart which focused exclusively on the children’s space. Deb brings more than twenty-five years experience building world-class brands and growing startups to a wider array of lifestyle, entertainment and mission-based brands.

Deb’s clients have included well-known large toy companies as well as growing companies seeking to get to the next level with new product and marketing strategies. She has contributed her expertise to the missions of many organizations including Women in Toys, Licensing and Entertainment (WIT) where she serves as secretary and Empowerment Initiatives co-chair. She is a board advisor to women-owned companies Guard Up and Lesson Face.  Deb will be a mentor for startup accelerator, Mass Challenge’s 2017 cohort. She received her BA from Boston University and her MBA from Boston College Carroll Graduate School of Management.

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