The entrepreneurial boys are everywhere--smart, shrewd, mega-rich and so unnaturally young, you wonder if you'll ever see gray hair on the cover of a business magazine again. Billionaires just seem to get greener and greener. Yet, with startlingly few exceptions, they don't seem to get much more female.
Most of us can name at least half a dozen men under 40 who have made walloping millions. But the number of similarly high-profile young entrepreneurial women is disarmingly small. For entrepreneurial women, the analogy goes something like this: Overexposed: Michael Dell. Underdeveloped: Your Name Here.
On the other hand, this is hardly a bad time to be an entrepreneurial woman. In terms of sheer numbers, women business owners are more powerful than ever before. The National Foundation for Women Business Owners in Silver Spring, Maryland, reports that the number of women-owned businesses has more than doubled in the past 12 years, to 9.1 million firms. Women-owned companies represent 38 percent of all U.S. businesses and account for a healthy $3.6 trillion in annual sales.
Also healthy: attitudes among young women entrepreneurs, who aren't weighted down by fear or discrimination. Where baby boomer women rose up against traditional barriers to success, today's post-feminist generation barely acknowledges them. In fact, Brenda Do, 29-year-old co-founder of Rock Solid Products Inc., a plastics manufacturer in Reno, Nevada, says being an Asian-American woman may have helped her first company, an e-commerce start-up, secure financing. "The bank told us they were eager to work with companies that weren't headed by middle-aged white guys," says Do, who expects Rock Solid's sales to hit $800,000 this year.
Jennifer Hodges, 30-year-old founder of San Juan Capistrano, California, Hero Nutritional Products and creator of the top-selling Yummi Bears line of children's nutritional supplements, also sees no handicap in being a woman. "Too many women approach business with a huge fear of competing with men," says Hodges. "I grew up in a family that told me anything was achievable. For me, being a woman has never been a disadvantage."
"What these women are saying is that they don't want to be viewed as successful women, but rather as successful people," says psychologist Dr. Sylvia Rimm, whose book See Jane Win (Crown Publishers, $25, 800-795-7466) tracks the childhood and young adult experiences and attitudes of 1,000 successful women. "They no longer view themselves as pioneers [for being in nontraditional fields like entrepreneurship], even when they are. They're concentrating on accomplishing what they're trying to accomplish, not on trying to change the world."
Is this progress? Certainly. Compared to the bad old days--when the most impressive entrepreneurial woman couldn't secure a bank loan without bringing her husband along to cosign--being able to take care of business without viewing yourself as a poster child for the feminist cause is an absolute breakthrough.