Gainesville-based business owner Rebecca Barborak celebrated the opening of her third art studio in August, echoing a recent national trend of success for female business owners.
Her first paint-it-yourself venture Corks & Colors Canvas and Pottery Studio opened in Gainesville in 2010. A second followed shortly after as a satellite kiosk at The Oaks Mall. Barborak’s third, DiY Studio, opened in Ocala in August.
“I think women are stepping up more and are feeling the opportunities that are there and are grabbing hold of them,” Barborak said.
According to the 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN, the number of women-owned businesses increased 59 percent between 1997 and 2013. Florida’s 572,900 women-owned businesses earned it a No. 4 ranking in the nation for total number of women-owned businesses — the same ranking it’s held since 1997. California, Texas and New York hold the top three rankings respectively.
But Nola Miyasaki, former CEO of High Technology Development Corporation and current Norman C. Stevenson Chair in Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University, said North Central Florida faces unique challenges in fostering female-owned businesses because of its largely rural population.
“The population is really spread out in the North Central area and in the panhandle, and in general, I think the per-capita income is lower,” she said.
Miyasaki believes Gainesville is the exception to this challenge.
“In Gainesville, we have the advantage of being in a university town where there’s a high level of education, and there’s sort of an inherent business support just from the number of students and faculty and staff at the university,” Miyasaki said during an interview in Gainesville. “But in the rest of Alachua County and the rest of the counties, it’s really not like that.”
William Rossi, associate director of UF’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, said the center has worked to turn Gainesville and the surrounding area into a hot spot for technology business startups.
“We try to facilitate a catalyst to get people together of a like mind, for example, women who are interested in tech,” he said. “That’s why you see more women getting involved, why it’s growing more here than in other parts of the state — because we’re working at it.”
According to the 2007 U.S. economic census, 30.8 percent of firms in Gainesville were women-owned firms, just higher than the state’s average of 28.9 percent.
Miyasaki said women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing new business startups in the country.
“The buying power of women-owned businesses is tremendous,” Miyasaki said. “I think because it’s an underserved population catching up, that’s why the focus is so strong on women-owned businesses, because that’s the source of potential economic growth for the country.”
Barborak said she is proud to contribute to the rising numbers because she believes women bring traits to the business world that men typically don’t.
“It’s a pro and it’s a con, but in it being a pro, we really truly understand our market,” Barborak said. “And that’s not to say that men don’t also bring their own strengths to the table, but having that emotional attachment to what you are offering or doing is really valuable when you’re trying to connect with your customer.”
Michael H. Morris, program director at the UF’s CEI, said he thinks the number of female-owned and run businesses will continue to increase in the future.
Still, he said, obstacles lie ahead.
Though women are starting businesses at a faster rate, they are underrepresented in terms of growth ventures, he said.
“Growth-oriented companies, which are about 15 percent of all startups, create most of those jobs,” Morris said. “So we don’t just need more ventures started by women but more ventures started by women who grow.”
The pressure to live up to societal roles also inhibits some women from starting businesses, he said.
“If you think about it, who’s assumed to be the caregiver in a family?” Morris said. “I think women face unique pressures to achieve some sort of balance between work kinds of issues and family kinds of issues.”
Ultimately, Barborak believes a person’s work ethic and passion for the business, not gender, will determine his or her success.
“I think that I’ve succeeded because I am extremely stubborn,” she said. “I don’t give up. I don’t take no for an answer. If you don’t love what you do and you’re not passionate, then you can’t survive.”