Women of color are starting businesses at ‘record rates’

Tanitsha Bridgers started her business, Mobile Mental Health Support Services, after working her first few years in Nevada hospitals and mental health centers as a licensed clinical social worker. “Opening my own business seemed like the next appropriate step,” said Bridgers.

Tanitsha Bridgers tells people there are two reasons someone might start a business.

“It’s either out of a need they see and a void that needs to be filled or out of frustration,” she said.

She started Mobile Mental Health Support Services because she saw people who wanted access to mental health care yet obstacles prevented them from getting it.

Almost nine years later, she owns a thriving business and is one of an increasing number of entrepreneurial women of color.

The phrase “the future is female” has been the sentiment for recent political movements, but it also is applicable for women of color in business.

“We see the women’s movement and ‘me too’ and ‘time’s up,’ ” said Kimberly Blackwell, a council member on the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). “Women are more empowered. The surge is also empowering us in the business world.”

It’s not just in Nevada.

“The numbers aren’t isolated to a certain segment of the country,” Blackwell said. “Women of color are starting businesses at record rates all over.”

According to the 2012 U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners by the NWBC, there are 1,521,494 businesses in America owned by black women, a 66 percent increase since 2007.

Nationally, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women own 24,982 businesses; 1,469,991 are owned by Latinas; and 749,197 are owned by Asian women.

Blackwell, who is based in Ohio, started her communications and marketing agency in 1999 before there was a surge in female entrepreneurs or resources for them. During the 1990s, the NWBC was developed to start growing resources for women who wanted to own a business.

“I would say in the past decade, we saw more cohesive and collaborative efforts,” she added.

Nevada has also seen significant growth in the past decade, with the highest increase of women starting businesses in the Pacific Islander and black communities—163 and 162 percent increases, respectively.

Among the common types of companies being started are those relating to the management of companies, health care and food services. Blackwell also said there has been an uptick of health care business on a national level.

Bridgers is just one of those entrepreneurs who opened a business in the health care industry. As a licensed clinical social worker, she spent her first few years in Nevada working in hospitals and mental health centers.

“Opening my own business seemed like the next appropriate step,” she said. “I just had my laptop and cellphone.”

The rise in the number of businesses owned by women of color also includes Las Vegas based-entrepreneur Lisa Song Sutton.

While working at a law firm in 2012, she was talking to a friend in Florida who started making alcohol-infused cupcakes on the side.

She immediately knew this had potential.

“I asked her: If I could get it bankrolled, would she be interested in coming out to Vegas to start a company?” Sutton said.

Using a combination of money she had saved and a personal loan from her mother, Sutton co-founded Sin City Cupcakes.

Since then, Sutton has become part owner in nine other businesses, using a mixture of her own funds and crowdsourcing.

Sutton had no idea how much support was available for women of color.

“I wish there were more resources when I started,” Sutton said. “It seems like there weren’t as many resources back then, but with more women (becoming entrepreneurs), they are popping up.”

Whether it’s the various chambers of commerce, such as the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Chamber of Commerce, or the Nevada Women’s Business Center, there are various support systems.

Kathleen Taylor, the programing and marketing coordinator with the Nevada Women’s Business Center, said women are 74 percent of its clientele but that “we are inclusive and open to all.”

The federally funded nonprofit organization provides assistance to small businesses at any stage and helps aspiring owners with tasks such as writing a business plan, learning how to market, getting a business coach and helping to obtain women- and minority-owned business certifications.

About 63 percent of its clients are minorities.

For the past four years, Bridgers has been part of the Las Vegas chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, heading up the economic empowerment committee.

“Our economic empowerment committee is like a business shark tank that helps startups,” Bridgers said.

It has helped more than 20 small businesses by providing resources such as paying business license fees or purchasing cards.

Bridgers also said the organization started a mentorship component to help aspiring business owners.

While there is a rise of women-owned companies, there are still obstacles along the way.

Sutton said entering male-dominated businesses can be challenging.

She remembered an instance when she and her business partner walked into a meeting and received a greeting that was off-putting.

“We were meeting with a CEO and he said, ‘You guys are cute. Where are the owners?’ ” Sutton said.

Blackwell said while there are more women of color starting their own businesses, there is still work to be done in helping them remain profitable.

According to the 2012 U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners, white women owned 47,485 businesses in Nevada and saw $11.6 billion in receipts. That’s compared with 9,212 business owned by black women that made $231 million in receipts, Hispanic women who had 15,423 business and saw $804 million and the 485 businesses by women in the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, which had $17 million in receipts.

Knowing women of color are part of the rise of women-owned businesses fills Sutton with pride.

“I think what’s happening is empowering and uplifting,” she added. “I think it’s only going to get better.”