Now for a little backpedaling. If all these factors conspire to keep women entrepreneurs out of the public spotlight--or at least a little to the left of center stage--they do not prevent women from setting lofty goals, getting their brains in gear, working like dervishes in overdrive and flourishing on their own terms. Many, like Evette White, are succeeding well beyond their early expectations.
White, 34, bought Image III, a Nashville advertising agency with sales now approaching $6 million, in 1994. She was already a veteran at both entrepreneurship and design, having started her own graphics business in 1983, just out of high school. Still, "It was not my goal [when I started] to be where I am today," White says. "Getting [past] the $5 million level has been incredible."
In the universe of Jeff Bezos and Jerry Yang, passing $5 million may not seem like much. But for White, who has built her business brick by brick--and without the benefit of a zillion-dollar IPO--it's a huge accomplishment.
Hodges is another example of surpassed expectations. She started Hero Nutritional Products in 1994 out of her parents' garage. Though she absolutely believed in her product--a line of all-natural children's vitamins and nutritional supplements that look and taste like Gummi Bear candies--she did not foresee the velocity with which they'd take off. "The product hit the stores in November 1996," Hodges recalls. "By November 1997, we were the number-one- selling children's vitamin supplement [in the health-food market]." Sales for 1999 well exceeded $1 million.
Hodges' ultimate goal: to build an empire. "I want [us] to be the largest nutraceutical company in the world," she asserts. "We're on the ground floor of this trend, and I don't see any limit to what we can accomplish."
Veena Rao is equally ambitious. At 28, Rao is the brains behind 5-year-old Veena & Co., a North Bethesda, Maryland, sports-marketing and special-events business that boasts two dozen high-profile clients (including NBA star Christian Laetner). Rao admits she's already accomplished more than might be reasonably expected in five years: She is a young woman succeeding in a notoriously competitive field. But she also pronounces, with absolute confidence, that she intends to build Veena & Co. into the premier sports-marketing firm in the country.
Rao isn't crazy about being reminded that she's beating the odds. "When I started this company, I didn't know if what I was attempting would work. No one had created a company with our range of services before," she says. "But I had reason to think it might work. And once I got started, there was no way I wasn't going to make it work. That's what a lot of people don't count on. You become so invested in your own business that you do what it takes." Just the kind of attitude that makes talk about gender bias, negative socialization and feminine life challenges seem like so much blah, blah, blah.