Entrepreneurial Spirits


By Teri Barr
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Excitement. Fear. Initiative. Hard work. Risk. Passion.

It sounds daunting—and also wildly exciting, and more women are embracing the adventure, starting businesses in Madison and beyond. According to new numbers from SCORE , a national organization providing support for small businesses, there are currently 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., a statistic that jumped by more than 67 percent in just the last 18 years. If you read reviews on this website about small businesses tips and tricks you will almost notice a greater percentage of female contributors than male. At the same time, businesses owned by women of color grew from 1 million to 3 million—a 300 percent increase. Locally, it looks even better. The online business resource NerdWallet just released a study placing Monona, Middleton, McFarland, Verona and Madison in the top 80 cities to start a business in this region. The Doyenne Group, a Madison-based networking organization for entrepreneurs, estimates it has helped more than 100 women get their businesses off the ground in this area during the last year, by offering support, development and even funding opportunities. A popular hub of entrepreneurial spirit is the automotive industry with many finding success here. There is still a large disparity in numbers between males and females here. Anyone looking to get into this industry will need to do a trade insurance compare online to find the best deal. Hopefully, this will encourage more women to do this.

Yet financing for women wanting to start a business isn’t even close to what’s being given to men. One recent report shows just 7 percent of venture capital funds going to women. OWL , a national nonprofit championing economic security for women over 40, kicked off a campaign on Mother’s Day with a goal of increasing venture capital funding from 7 percent to 20 percent by 2020. There is a similar push in this area, with several entrepreneurial- focused groups working together to disperse millions of dollars the city of Madison earned to specifically help women grow their businesses.

And, there’s no age limits for dreaming: According to OWL , women over age 50 are found to be twice as likely to have success as those in their 20s. Plus, girls can now learn what it means to be an entrepreneur during hands-on summer camps.

But beyond all the numbers, there are real women taking the entrepreneurial plunge—and realizing that no matter how much it may have excited or frightened them, doing what they love is worth the hard work.

Move Forward, Together

Heather Wentler & Amy Gannon
Fouders Doyenne Group

One thing leads to another. And in Heather Wentler’s case, it’s now several things. “ I started Fractal to help kids bridge what they were learning in school and how it applies to everyday life, and especially for young girls to see a different future opportunity,” Wentler says. In 2011, the former teacher turned- entrepreneur took the education and empowerment o f 6- to 13-year-olds to the next level with the business, a science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics-or STEAM—enrichment program, “then, when Wentler met Amy Gannon, of the Edgewood College School o f Business, the two decided to do the same thing for adult women. “We want to help women move faster, and wiser, in an effort to impact the world with their entrepreneurial skills,” Gannon says. “We believe you should put yourself in opportunity’s way!” “they formed their own opportunity, the Doyenne Group, in 2012.Both express passion about the power of women entrepreneurs, and call the Doyenne Group a means to build on, as they mobilize that community in Madison. But they also want to make a statement; Gannon talks a lot about the challenges women entrepreneurs face, especially related to funding a new venture. “ Some bankers still say they don’t want to loan to a woman-owned business,” Gannon says. “ So we are trying to pull information together to help them take action—banks, accelerators or angel investors—while we are also raising funds through Doyenne to offer grants, which we later hope can be paid forward from one woman entrepreneur to the next.” Wentler, meantime, is working hard to connect similar-minded networks in the community, with the goal of increasing active women entrepreneurs by five fold in Madison, in the next five years. “We want Madison on the map as one of the best places in the country for women entrepreneurs, and we’ve made a lot o f strides,” Wentler says. “Data shows women-owned businesses may be smaller, but have higher success rates, and Doyenne has helped more than 100 women turn an idea into a business. It’s also important to realize the diversity of women in entrepreneurial roles in this area, ranging from biotech to retail and IT. Now to get everyone else to acknowledge it… .”Yet, the increase in the number of women entrepreneurs is slowly being recognized; even Gannon acknowledges the conversation is different than during the last three years.“There’s a momentum now, we keep encouraging women to keep an eye on the prize by executing, but also letting some things just come to them.” And Wentler says women across the state are interested, and looking to join this group’s mission. “We may be branching to Racine, Kenosha—and we’re getting requests for support from women in La Crosse, Eau Claire and Green Bay,” Wentler says. “ It’s time to partner across the state to face the hurdles, and move forward together.”

Kelly Ehlers
Owner Ideas that Evoke

The rewards of entrepreneurship: You become a game-changer and inspirational leader. Entrepreneurship focuses on action and a willingness to venture into the unknown, forcing me to find answers for the question “why not?” instead of “why?” It’s a big factor in my success.Advice for new entrepreneurs: There was a time I didn’t “ trust my gut,” and having that entrepreneurial spirit, I think that’s something that guides you. If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself “ trust your intuition.” Do what feels right, but also don’t be afraid to ask for help. Learn from your peers and mentorsRisk, will and persistence-just a few of the words Kelly Ehlers grew up with, thanks to parents she describes as incredibly entrepreneurial. “ Both my mother and father were serial entrepreneurs,” Ehlers says. “ So really, it’s second nature to me. I’ve never had to explain what I was setting out to do. From a family perspective, we all get it. Been there, done that, succeeded.”And with that spirit in mind, the 36-year-old started her own entrepreneurial venture, Ideas “That Evoke. Ehlers created the Madison based social agency business in 2009, when few others realized the pending power of social media on the business world. “ I was five months pregnant, and didn’t want to go back to the status quo,” Ehlers says. “Leaving behind my corporate position, I knew in my heart that I could create something big, an agency at the forefront of innovation. I started first consulting, and a little over three years ago, hired my first employee.” Currently, Ehlers has more than 20 people on her team-most are women. Yet, she considers her business as still-expanding. “ I’m always evolving the business, and myself,” Ehlers says. “About a year ago, we developed a Hispanic/multicultural division… .We’re now working with global and national brands to extend their reach within this community. I see this as an incredible opportunity for us to continue to grow.”But, Ehlers’ entrepreneurial efforts are already getting some national and international attention. She was named Enterprising Woman of the Year for 2015 by Enterprising Women Magazine, and was a Stevie Award finalist for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014, along with being a semifinalist for Entrepreneur Magazine’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year. Despite the recognition and success, Ehlers admits, it hasn’t always been easy. “ It’s an in credible amount of work,” Ehlers says. “ I feel that the thought o f starting a business, or being your own boss is an incredibly attractive one that most people feel they can achieve, “The flip side of what most people don’t realize, it’s a great sacrifice, with a great deal of ups and downs, and a great deal of risk. But the difference in someone who has entrepreneurial skills, and an [actual] entrepreneur, is the person who takes the risk.”The word, risk. It’s among those Ehlers learned as a child in her native Iowa. And it’s one she lives by as an adult, and entrepreneur, today. “ Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, not a profession. I’m never working, but I’m never not working,” Ehlers says. “ It’s all part o f the decision I made to go down this path. And it’s been one of the best decisions of my life.”

Unwavring passion

Taylar Barrington
Owner Taylar Barrington Creative Agency, Maverick Hill


Contributing to society is important to Taylar Barrington. And as an entrepreneur, she stands behind her belief in not just talking about it, but living it. “ I really think happiness is defined by your abilities to contribute in the way only you can,” Barrington says. “No one else can do what you do well, so just do it! ” Barrington’s abilities have helped her create not one, but two businesses. And the 27-year-old has a third in the works.

Barrington is new to Madison, but not to the idea of using her entrepreneurial spirit to succeed. “ I’m fulfilling the goals I’d created from my passions and dreams,” Barrington says. “ I have an unwavering passion to see all o f my goals materialize.” She describes finding the city surprisingly unintimidating, and supportive, or even friendly to entrepreneurs. It’s part o f what brought her here, along with the opportunity to attend graduate school in pursuit of her MBA. It’s a lot to juggle, but she’s not having a problem making things happen. “When I am passionate about something, whether it’s one o f my businesses or school, I just get carried away,” Barrington says. “ If it takes me two, eight, or 14 hours a day to get something done that will help someone else, I’ll do it. I feel so good about it all, too. It’s like I finally figured myself out.”

The search for self started just a few years ago when she was teaching graphic communications to special education high schoolers in Northern Illinois. Every class began with the students being asked to share their dreams. “One day a student asked me if I had any dreams,” Barrington says. “ It threw me off, and I couldn’t answer the question. I may have been the teacher, but learned so much from them as it forced me to have some serious self-reflection about what I was doing with my life.” In the end, she quit her job, took the money she’d sav ed-$ 5 0 0 -an d started what she calls a subscription-based, social company for college women. Maverick Hill offers access to products, events and resources; now just a little more than one year after its start, 15,000 women are part of the community. “ It’s about supporting women by connecting them with Maverick Hill and our campus reps,” Barrington says. “We hold events, share blogs, promote internships, and all o f it is meant to support the idea o f self empowerment.” It’s her second successful venture in entrepreneurship.

The Stone Hill, Georgia, native brought her first entrepreneurial idea to life while she was still in high school. She launched the Taylar Barrington Creative Agency in 2006, and today it connects young women with a variety of marketing skills with clients in need o f these types o f services. Barrington believes it is also cultivating the motivators, leaders and history makers o f the future.

In many ways, her goals have already come full-circle, as her passion is helping others find a way to share their talents.

Wear your Success

Deborah Paul
Owner Midwest Decorative Stone and Landscape Supply


It ’s all about the hats. And as Deborah Paul explains it; knowing when, where, and how long to have one on is an important factor for any successful entrepreneur. “You really have to be aware o f what hat you are wearing, and why,” Paul says. “At any given moment I have to be able to move between my various roles, “This can include everything from employee manager, to service provider, check writer or even equipment operator. You just have to know when it’s crucial to change your hat from one to the next.”

The 48-year-old Madison woman makes it look easy. During the past 24 years, Paul has grown Midwest Decorative Stone and Landscape Supply from 1 acre o f leased land to a business sprawled across more than 6 acres she now owns. Her husband is the company’s president. “We took some small business administration classes at UW-Madison a long time ago,” Paul says. “ It’s still one of the best things I ever did to learn about the true cost of doing business as an entrepreneur. It helped me understand the market and competition, along with boosting my confidence to deal with insurance, creating an employee handbook and business plan. I also secured a startup loan which gave me the opportunity to get this dream off the ground.”

She now admits, with a laugh, had she known how much work it would take, she may not have done it. Yet, some of the early challenges remain due to the nature of her business, “”tte always changing weather and very long hours can be really tough. But overall it’s rewarding and fun,” Paul says. “ I can work for anyone, but I’d rather work for myself.”

And with that attitude, her business grew, while at the same time her family and staff also expanded.

She currently employs 12 people, and almost half are women. “ It’s not the easiest sell,” Paul says. “Women aren’t always interested in this type o f work, but I’ve found those on my team to be friendly, thorough and organized; all traits our customers, both professional landscape architects to amateur gardeners, really appreciate.” Yet, there are still those who are surprised to learn that a woman runs this type o f business, and has female employees willing to do the work. “When you’re questioned, you better have the answer,” Paul says. “ I believe in standing up for yourself by showing your capabilities, training and knowledge to help you deliver on your promise.”

Paul also made a promise to herself, which includes connecting with those who may want to follow in her footsteps. It includes young men and women, but she’s working hard to educate more women about the potential in her business. “First, you have to understand what it means to be an entrepreneur,” Paul says. “You almost have to be your own best employee, and be willing to put the money, materials, knowledge and discipline into it. “Then you can take whatever your passion, and turn those dreams into a business.”

It may be the one hat Paul forgot, though she’s already wearing it: success

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