Local women making huge strides in business despite challenges

Melissa Hart, owner of Cookie Cousins, having a meeting with her staff.
Photo by Natalie Monzon

As the sun rises over Edgewater Drive during the last week of April, take a moment to give a special salutation to all the businesses owned by women in College Park. You see, the last week of April is National Small Business Week, and the lady bosses have defied the odds and busted through barriers to rise up and succeed in the often male-dominated business world.

In 2013, an article on Forbes.com called “The Paradox of Women Business Owners” listedfour “cultural norms” that work against women in the business world: First, they view “themselves as butchers, bakers and candle stick makers — not CEOs.” Second, many women are not comfortable identifying themselves as the family breadwinner. Third, some women dislike negotiating with vendors and suppliers to reduce overhead expenses. (There is a descriptor of assertive females —it rhymes with itchy — with whichmany women would rather not be associated.) And fourth, some women feel that money will change them for the worse.

Add to these cultural norms the following financial roadblock realities: The Forbes writer noted that “women seeking first-year financing to get their companies off the ground receive about 80% less capital than men.” And women often choose lower-growth industries that prevent them from receiving serious consideration from ubiquitous venture capital.

But things are changing. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, in 2017, 11.6 million women-owned U.S. companies employed almost 9 million people, and their businesses generated $1.7 trillion in sales.

Narrowing the focus from the nation to the neighborhood, we learned there are 200-plus businesses in the College Park area; more than 30 are owned and operated by women.

In pouring over the list of businesses provided by the College Park Main Street, it became immediately clear the women of the 32804 are far more than butchers, bakers, or candlestick makers. Their entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well with a variety of successful businesses that would make Warren Buffet’s checkbook blush. We reached out to a sample of these owners to learn more about their motivations, struggles, and advice.

The reasons these women started their businesses vary as widely as their fields.

Kimberly Kiss, attorney and owner of Kiss Legal Solutions, said her motivation was two things: independence and family. “As a solo attorney, I like being able to choose my clientele and set the relationship tone that reflects my personality and work ethic.”

Dr. Jeanine Armesto, optometrist and owner of College Park Eye Care, shared the story of tagging along with her grandfather, an ironworker who worked on the Brooklyn Bridge, when he needed to see an eye doctor. Watching the eye doctor care for her grandfather inspired her passion and interest in optometry.

Unfortunately, the struggles are real too. Bonnie DiCocco, owner of Driftwood Market, said that each struggle has yielded a valuable lesson. “I have four young girls who get to be a part of all this,” said DiCocco. “They get to see that hard work pays off.

”Maggie Davis, CEO of Mad Fab, said that it was tough breaking into the business. Like construction, the scenic fabrication business is mostly a male-dominated industry. She said receiving financing was tough. Larger banks were not interested, but fortunately, she found funding with a smaller, local bank.

Are you interested in starting your own business? These ladies have valuable advice.

Melissa Hart, owner of Cookie Cousins, said she was told to grow deep, not wide. “It means pick something you do well and be known as the best instead of trying to do everything at a mediocre quality.”

Dr. Armesto recommended joining the College Park Main Street and any relevant networking groups. She said, “Surround yourself with varying perspectives as information for creating your own ideas.”

Kiss, the attorney, encouraged women to meet with other women business owners. “It takes courage and determination to run your own business, but sometimes we do not know what that looks like on a day to day basis,” she said.

DiCocco had two words of advice: “Do it.”

And Davis of Mad Fab said, “You should have done it yesterday.”

With the spotlight shining on women’s issues more brightly than ever, College Park is fortunate to have a collection of female-run businesses and owner role models to represent what can be and should be the norm in the business world. Congratulations to each, and happy National Small Business Week.

___ Quotations and statistics are from forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/06/18/the-paradox-of-women-business-owners by Elizabeth Isele and nawbo.org/resources/women-business-owner-statistics.

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