PUBLISHED: 2:11 PM on Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Women use work to pursue passions
A home, a family and a small business

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Carol Schriver weaves plastic bags and bed sheets into functional rugs. She started her business Rags to Rugs just a month ago, and seeks advice from the Small Business Association.
New businesses start with a hunch.

Anji Gallanos had a hunch that a clay studio for children would be a great addition to Juneau's art scene.

Last August the former public school teacher started conducting market research on the idea. Earlier this spring she launched the Creating Place where youngsters can come for art classes and to play with clay.

When Carol Schriver inherited a large loom from her mother, she thought she could use it to turn old towels and sheets and used plastic bags into rugs. She turned that hunch into a business more than a month ago when she started Rags to Rugs.

After 18 years in commercial fishing, Laurie Lindsay bet her love of sailing could become a business.

Six years ago in Kodiak, she started a sailing charter business. In May she moved it to Juneau and piloted her 49-foot ketch Kirsten Anne across the gulf from Kodiak to Auke Bay.

Now she said she's scheduled a busy summer of gourmet dinner cruises, day sails and scientific expeditions.

"I like sailing a lot more than marketing, but I'm new in town and have to get known," she said.

Women owned businesses are a vital part of the region's and the nation's economy. A U.S. Census Bureau study released in January shows that women-owned businesses are growing at twice the rate of all businesses nationwide. In Alaska women own about a quarter of all the state's businesses. Alaska's panhandle has more than 1,800.

That's the good news. The bad news is that as many as a third of them will fail before two years in operation.

About 20 percent of businesses, whether owned by women or men, never reach their first anniversary; one third fail after less than two years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

To help women turn their hobbies into profitable ventures, the Southeast Alaska region of the SBA started the Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training in May. Organizer and senior area manager for the SBA in the Panhandle, Amy Lea said she began a monthly networking group for women business owners in Wyoming where she worked for the SBA before coming to Juneau.

She said it became an important place for women to trade leads and ideas and to share stories.

She said she's talked to women in Juneau who have either started a business or would like to but admit they lack practical experience. She said pricing is a good example.

"Why do we say, 'I charge $60 an hour, and then suddenly say OK, it can be $25, or for you, I really want your business, OK, let's make it $20," she said.

Understanding how to price a product and sticking to it is a business fundamental, Lea said.

According to the Census Bureau, women owned almost one third of all non-farm businesses in the country in 2002-the latest figures available. These enterprises generated more than $940 billion in revenues. In Alaska, women own about a quarter of all the state's businesses. These are companies in which women own at least 51 percent.

Most are in retail, business services, healthcare and social assistance-and that mirrors national trends. In Alaska, however, women also own a significant number of businesses in traditionally male dominated fields such as forestry, fishing, hunting and construction.

According to Census Bureau figures, Juneau boasts 650 women owned business; Ketchikan has about 550. Women own about 230 businesses in Sitka.

At the first SBA-sponsored networking meeting in May, the women attending looked as diverse as their business interests. Some were in suits, others in jeans and work boots. Some looked to be in their 60s, and some in their 20s.

One runs a network of daycare centers while one has a construction company and another has a life-coaching business.

Schriver, owner of Rags to Rugs, came to the meeting and said she is always on the lookout for materials that she can turn into rugs.

Jackie Stewart directs the Juneau Small Business Development Center, which helps existing and startup business owners with everything from financing to understanding regulations to planning.

She said the number of women business owners in the Juneau area could be higher than Census Bureau figures show.

She said last year more than 60 percent of people who participated in the center's training were women. She said small business owners tell her finding financing can be a challenge.

What many new entrepreneurs fail to realize is that if they want to start a business but lack collateral, they have to take out a loan against their home.

Stewart says that can be a frightening prospect when entrepreneurs see typical business failure rates.

Gallanos, owner of the Creating Place, said family members helped her cover startup costs, but they were two to three times what she expected.

She said time management and staffing currently are two of her challenges. Gallanos didn't attend the first SBA networking meeting, but is seeking a forum where she can find business advice and contacts.

"If I hire one person and that person's gone, then it's just me teaching a class of 15-20 kids. Do I hire another person so I have a backup? I'm trying to figure out how to cover my staffing needs," she said.

The Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training is held monthly. For more information, contact the Southeast Region SBA or the Juneau Small Business Development Center.