A recent entrepreneurial event sponsored by the Idaho Technology Council was notable for what it didn’t say: all three entrepreneurs on the panel were women, and their businesses are geared toward women.
The ITC didn’t set out to have an all-female panel, said Karen Appelgren, vice president and director of the business resource center at Zions Bank, and moderator of the Capital Connecting panel. “You pick businesses that have a great story, a history of success and a trajectory of success,” she said. “That’s who you want to highlight, regardless of gender. There are similar challenges and opportunities that entrepreneurs face.”
Alison Johnson from Holland and Hart and Blake Hansen from Alturas Capital served as co-chairs.
Participants were Amber Fawson and Cherie Hoeger, co-founders of Saalt, a menstrual cup company; Liza Roeser Atwood, CEO and co-owner of Fiftyflowers.com, and Jesse Reese McKinney, CEO of Red Aspen, a makeup and skin care company.
All three businesses were self-funded, and the women emphasized customer relationships, including branding and packaging, to attract customers.
How do women entrepreneurs in Idaho do? That depends on how you ask the question. Idaho came in second in a Frontier Business survey from last fall for the highest percentage of female-owned businesses. At the same time, a WalletHub study from a year ago ranked Idaho next to last for the percentage of women-owned businesses, but that study only counted businesses with employees. The 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN, also found Idaho in the penultimate spot, with 23.5 percent of firms owned by women. On the other hand, Idaho ranked 29th in terms of growth in the number of women-owned firms from 1997 to 2014 with 46.3 percent.
In addition, Idaho women entrepreneurs lack some of the resources available in other states. For example, the state is one of just three in the country without a Women’s Business Center, a Small Business Administration-funded program that, in partnership with local nonprofits, provides resources and classes for women.
A year ago, the SBA held a series of workshops to encourage Idaho groups to apply for a grant to fund a Women’s Business Center, but ultimately decided not to award a grant.
“We were told our application, although strong in collaboration, lacked the longevity of financial reports to show sustainability,” said Lori Otter, CEO of Idaho Women in Leadership, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that advances Idaho women’s leadership in government and business through leadership training programs.
The SBA is trying again this year, though a series of workshops planned for mid-January had to be rescheduled due to the federal government shutdown. Otter said that while her organization wasn’t planning to apply again, it was working with another organization that is planning to apply.
“We will be supporting the economic development district’s grant application, and they look forward to our partnership to make it a success,” she said.
That effort is being spearheaded by The Development Company, also known as the East-Central Idaho Planning & Development Association. The organization did not respond to inquiries by press time.
In the meantime, some Idaho banks are filling the gap. Zions has its Business Resource Center, while Wells Fargo has Wells Fargo Works, part of the corporate office’s small business program. While neither is aimed specifically at women, both count a large number of women as clients.
“I think we are missing out on an opportunity to promote growth for women in business,” said Lindsey Brist, business banking relationship manager for Wells Fargo in Boise, which handles small business from Sun Valley to Weiser. “I’ve found that more women went into business when they were provided the guidance and counseling they needed. We have networking groups, which help, but it’s something that holds women back. As an organization, we see a need and are trying to fill that gap, but there is a gap.”
This post has been updated to correct Karen Appelgren’s role with the panel.s