Growing up, we watch our mothers to figure out how we should perceive the world. So if your mother, and your mother's mother, own businesses, the entrepreneurial spirit is often contagious. "I can't remember my mother articulating in so many words that I should pursue whatever I wanted to do,' says Polly Baumer, owner of Many Hands Magazine, a holistic health quarterly in Northampton, Massachusetts. "What was much more evident was the impression I got from watching someone actually [go after her dreams]. I watched her create a business and make it happen.'
Baumer comes from what she describes as "a little tribe' of women entrepreneurs. Her mother, Margaret Jane Strong, started a business that provides art tours of Europe; her sister, Margaret Jane Mason, owns Mrs. Mason's Luscious Temptations, a candy manufacturing company in Southfield, Michigan; and most of her female cousins have dabbled in business ownership.
The matriarch of this entrepreneurial wellspring was Baumer's grandmother, Catherine Sweet Anderson. A woman who resisted every stereotype society wanted to squeeze her into, Anderson found her calling as a homebased business owner in the 1920s. Discovering from her husband, a vice president of marketing at Pillsbury, that the company was throwing away wheat germ, she promptly decided to collect the wheat germ, bag it, and sell it to friends and people in the community. Eventually, Anderson sold the business to a party who later sold it to the Kretschmer family, which has since become the best-known name in wheat germ. "She wasn't hesitant about making her presence known in the world,' Baumer says.
As Baumer watches her 15-year-old daughter enter young adulthood, she expects the legacy to continue. "Realizing you can do anything you want,' says Baumer, "is a form of freedom that you want to pass down."
They're already the champions of national and state economies. Now, according to the latest study by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners (NFWBO), we're discovering that entrepreneurial women dominate economic growth in America's top 50 metropolitan areas as well. Women-owned firms in these metropolitan statistical areas total nearly 4 million, employ 9.8 million workers, and generate $1.3 trillion in sales. Between 1987 and 1996, these women-owned businesses grew faster than businesses in general, sometimes by as much as 2.2 to 1.
"For the first time, we have current information on women in these metropolitan areas,' says Sharon Hadary, executive director of NFWBO. "And we're seeing tremendous growth rates. In some of these cities, the number of women-owned businesses has gone up by as much as 131 percent in the last nine years.' Today, more than half the number, sales, and workers employed by women-owned firms overall sprout from these 50 cities.
What's more, the skyrocketing growth in the number of women-owned businesses is being surpassed by their growth in sales and employment, indicating a second trend: "Women-owned businesses,' says Hadary, "are getting larger and more sophisticated."