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What can women in corporate America offer women entrepreneurs? Plenty. Just ask Lauren Rosenstadt, owner of Besthesda, Maryland-based Herbal Animals. "We had been selling our product for all of one month and were ready for the big time," remembers Rosenstadt, 43, mocking her early naivete. In 1995, she began a marketing campaign to sell her animal-shaped aromatherapy pillows to retailers, including The Body Shop and The Nature Company.
The first pillow-sheep-shaped and filled with lavender, peppermint and flaxseed-was dubbed Sydney Green Sheep, and the body-care products buyer at The Nature Company happened to be a woman named Sydney Scott. "When I pitched it to Sydney, I had a feeling it would be a go. She loved it. They started with Sydney Green Sheep, then asked us to make something just for The Nature Company," says Rosenstadt. "By fall, they had given us a 10,000-piece order. She really took a chance on us, because at the time, we were very small."
Woman entrepreneurs tend to be so focused on building their business, they often wear blinders.
Scott may have taken a chance on Herbal Animals, but she didn't leave things to chance. Her staff worked with Rosenstadt continuously, checking on delivery dates and more. "She did a lot of hand-holding," remembers Rosenstadt, who wondered if the treatment was unusual. In fact, that type of relationship is common.
"One of the things I hear a lot, especially from women who've been in corporate America for 20 years, is how difficult it was getting started because they didn't have mentors or role models. They want to share their experiences and make it easier for others," explains Maria Semidei-Otero, founder and president of the nonprofit Women's Venture Fund. In addition to making loans, the organization pairs women entrepreneurs with mentors-mostly corporate execs.
She notes that women entrepreneurs tend to be so focused on building their businesses, they often wear blinders. "Corporate women need to see a variety of things to manage the process," says Semidei-Otero. "Because they must interact with other divisions, they must negotiate and present information to different people at different times."
And the relationships are mutually beneficial. Women business owners help imbue their corporate counterparts with the entrepreneurial spirit increasingly needed to succeed in corporate life, says Carol Nichols, JPMorgan Chase senior vice president and Texas statewide manager of commercial business banking. "I think women entrepreneurs are real leaders in terms of having new and different ways to do business and be successful," says Nichols.
The connection between women entrepreneurs and those in corporate America can be powerful. It's in the best interest of both groups to ensure the other is strong, vibrant and fully realizes its potential.
Want to network with corporate women? In addition to the organizations below, check with your local women's chamber of commerce and industry associations.