Antoniella Skrip never thought of herself as an entrepreneur -- until the single mom of two teens was laid off from her job as an office manager and had to find another way to make a living.
She had always loved baking, and her made-from-scratch cupcakes had always earned raves from family and friends. So, she took her severance package and all of her savings and opened the doors to Cupcakes Galore and More in Bristol, Connecticut, on October 2.
It's a typical story of how businesses get started. An entrepreneur has an idea, takes a risk and invests the time, effort and money to make it happen. Simply put, that's how jobs are created and the economy grows.
And recent studies show women are exceptionally skilled at entrepreneurship.
The 2013 "State of Women-Owned Businesses Report," a survey commissioned by American Express, found women own 8.6 million businesses in the U.S. That's up 59 percent since 1997. These businesses account for 7.8 million employees and $1.3 trillion in revenue. While the recession caused an overall slump in private-sector job growth, the report recognized women-owned businesses as "the only bright spot" for actually adding 175,000 jobs since 2007.
Earlier this year, the National Association of Women Business Owners called 2013 the "Year of the Female Entrepreneur," with more women launching their own enterprises than ever before, and with existing companies planning to invest more in their businesses and hire more employees.
But, even with all the evidence and accolades, we need to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses.
Antoniella Skrip says she didn't know a single woman business owner before starting her company. The business owners she turned to for advice were all men. While she doesn't know if having a female advisor would have made a difference, it's striking that she had no women as role models.
Antoniella started her business plan soon after her former company announced plans to merge with another and she learned her job would be eliminated. But by the time she had her plan researched, written and vetted by an accountant, her layoff was finalized and she was unemployed. No bank would give her a business loan without another source of income. She was stunned that it was so difficult to get a loan, and instead cashed every penny out of her retirement plan to make her dream come true.
Just 25 years ago, before the Women's Business Ownership Act was signed into law, women couldn't get a business loan without a male relative co-signing it. We have come so far -- but it's clear we still have much more work to do.
Some of that involves drawing attention to the successes and challenges women are having as entrepreneurs. October is recognized as National Women's Small Business Month. Policymakers and banks need to see the power and the potential female entrepreneurs have.
During my campaign for the U.S. Senate, I tried to shine a spotlight on small business owners, especially women, who are making a difference in their communities and creating jobs. As an entrepreneur myself, I wanted to share my own experiences and challenges and encourage them on their own paths toward success. In the end, they were the ones who inspired me.
As October comes to a close, let's not forget the women-owned businesses or the strides they are making.
Just a month into her new business, Antoniella loves being an entrepreneur. While the first day was stressful, she says it's rewarding to be her own boss and to walk into her shop each day and see what she has created. She hopes to inspire her kids and have them see her as a stronger person. And she hopes to inspire other women, as well. After all, if she could start a business as an unemployed single mom, anyone could.
This month, I attended Fortune Magazine's Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, DC. Entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely, creator of Spanx and the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, and executives like Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, shared their stories. Their stratospheric levels of success are inspiring, but so, too, are the success stories on every Main Street in America.
While Sara and Sheryl are celebrated with TV interviews, magazine covers and keynote addresses, the next big ideas are right now being crafted in basements, garages and kitchens. Those entrepreneurs need mentors and banks to believe in them and invest in their success. They need customers to share their passions for their products and services.
Let's celebrate the Antoniellas of the business world, too.