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forbes ranks columbus eighth best place for female business founders

Caroline Worley and Mary McCarthy, cofounders of WSBA.
Caroline Worley and Mary McCarthy, cofounders of WSBA. - Photos Ben French
Forbes magazine recently named Columbus eighth on its list of the 15 best U.S. cities for female entrepreneurs. The rankings were reported in the business publication’s October 18th issue. Columbus is the only Ohio city to make the list.

To arrive at its conclusions, Forbes began with the most populous cities on its “Best Places For Business and Careers” list and developed a pool of cities with high projected growth, education levels and quality of life, and low cost of doing business. It then introduced metrics for recent years regarding the biggest growth in the number of female-led firms and also the cities where the most SBA-backed loans are going to women.

While Forbes doesn’t provide a breakout of the specific statistics it used to determine each ranking, the article notes that women-led firms in Columbus have been granted more than $4 million in SBA-backed loans.

Commenting on Columbus’ position in the rankings, Meghan Casserly, author of the article, stated that “in recent years, women-led firms are really taking root in the city.” She added that “TechColumbus, a members-only resource for tech entrepreneurs, continues to see an increase in women-led ventures.”

In addition, Casserly noted that “This month ForbesWoman (a special feature section of the magazine) also ranked Columbus as the best city in the country for working mothers, thanks to its affordable cost of living, great school system, high wages and short commute.”

So, what makes Columbus such a good place for women to create their own businesses?

hiVelocity talked with Mary McCarthy, who, with her partner, attorney Caroline Worley, founded the city’s new Women’s Small Business Accelerator (WSBA) to help women establish and build small businesses. We also spoke with TechColumbus, an organization geared to advancing innovation in Central Ohio. In addition, we connected with three successful local women business owners for their thoughts on why Columbus works so well for women entrepreneurs.

They told us that Columbus businesswomen reach out to and collaborate with each other, there are a wide range of programs here designed to help women entrepreneurs succeed, and there's a young spirit and an openness to new ideas that pervades the city.
Regarding business women helping each other, WSBA’s McCarthy points out that women entrepreneurs forge connections here. “There’s a willingness here to partner, to work as a team to help other women business owners succeed,“ she says.

McCarthy, who is also co-founder and partner of Your Management Team with Worley, gives an example from when they started the WSBA. “As a new non-profit focused on helping women, we were quickly approached by the local chapters of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) and WELD (Women For Economic Leadership Development) to work together,” she recalls. “Columbus offers women entrepreneurs great collaboration.”

In terms of special programs geared to women, TechColumbus offers the Women in Technology and Science program. Started in 2010, it’s for female business founders and women with careers in the fields of technology or science, according to Laura Coffee, director of acceleration programs for TechColumbus.

“The group meets six times a year, and topics alternate between informational sessions and sessions that highlight women in the technology and science field in Columbus who have achieved success,” she explains. Recent topics have included lessons learned, featuring a panel of women technology entrepreneurs; marketing myths; and angel and venture funding.

A new educational opportunity for grooming future potential women technology entrepreneurs emerged from the program’s November meeting. It featured a panel of female high school and college students who are passionate about technology and science. “The panelists are doing amazing work in STEM, such as robotics, bioinformatics and app development,” Coffee says. “They shared what they think the future holds for women interested in STEM and what they need to stay motivated.” As a result of that meeting, TechColumbus is establishing a new group to connect female high school and college students interested in science and technology with successful Columbus women in those fields.

The business owners we talked with echo McCarthy’s observation about collaboration among women entrepreneurs and also praise Columbus’ educational resources and connections.

Jackie Chapman is founder of JC’s Sweet Ice Tea, Southern-style ice tea made from all-natural ingredients. “Interacting with successful Columbus women entrepreneurs is a real inspiration to me,” she states. “I connect with a lot of them at events put on by the Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI). Chapman credits ECDI with linking her up with Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams beer. As a result, she landed a $10,000 loan through the company’s “Brewing the American Dream” program that helps entrepreneurs in the food, beverage and hospitality industries.

“In terms of education,” she says, “with so many universities and colleges here, there are tremendous learning opportunities available. As a result, we have an abundance of well-educated women in Columbus.” Chapman, who works a full-time job and operates JC’s Sweet Ice Tea on the side, explains that the idea for her company came to her “in a vision” while she was traveling through the South and sampling the region’s special version of ice tea.

Kristie Melnik is founder and president of Cytolutions, a biotech services company that focuses on rare cell detection using fluorescence and magnetic techniques. She considers The Ohio State University an important Columbus resource. An OSU graduate with a B.S. in microbiology, Melnik has worked on projects in pathology, chemical engineering, medical device development, nanotechnology, microbiology, stem-cell science, and biochemical engineering. “If I need to find specialty equipment, OSU more than likely has it, and I can use it for a fee.”

Melnik’s connections at OSU, through the school’s Technology Commercialization Office (TCO), also opened a door of opportunity for her with Professor Jessica Winter. Winter developed a new way to make fluorescent nanoparticles and established Core Quantum Technologies, Inc. to commercialize the concept. According to Melnik, the potential for this technology is huge. She now serves as Quatum Technologies’ chief operating officer.

Nancy Kramer, chairman and chief culture officer of digital marketing agency Resource, is high on her home town of Columbus. “I can’t imagine doing what I’ve done anywhere else on the planet,” she says. “My values were shaped here, and those values have shaped our business.”

Kramer calls Columbus a very open and young city. “People of all types, backgrounds and diverse experiences are welcomed and listened to in Columbus.” Kramer explains that she discovered this factor for the first time in 1990. “I was invited to serve on one of our civic boards. I was welcomed by the heads of major corporations and sought out for my ideas on how to make our community a better place. This openness comes from the youth and constant re-generation of the population due to the density of college students here. This is unique and is one of the reasons, I believe, that Columbus is a great place for female entrepreneurs.” Kramer was recently recognized by Advertising Age as one of the country's most influential women in the field of advertising.

In their personal and professional lives, Chapman, Melnik and Kramer make time for community involvement and giving back.
Chapman explains that, even though she’s “crazy busy” with her full-time job and also operating her company, she makes it a point to carve out time to be “heavily involved” with her church.  Melnik created a special perfume with a colleague to raise money to help local women going through cancer treatment pay for incidentals. Her impetus was the death of a friend who succumbed to the disease. Kramer is a big supporter of The Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus. She also encourages community involvement among her employees through her company’s ‘Resource Gives’ program, whereby the company donates $250 to a charitable organization once employees donate 25 hours of their time to it.
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