Nadya Saib is running a social enterprise in Indonesia that sustains local farmers. In New York, Tze Chun has launched a startup that connects emerging artists with art collectors. And India's Neha Modgil is leading her own tech-design firm, bringing her 3-month-old baby to work with her.
These are some of the stories The Story Exchange has collected over the past year as part of our "1,000 Stories" campaign, an ongoing research project with Babson College. The goal is to understand the needs of women business owners around the world while giving these often-overlooked entrepreneurs media exposure.
TSE has heard from nearly 600 female entrepreneurs since the project began (see the full list here) -- and is actively seeking 400 more submissions, all of which will be featured on TheStoryExchange.org. Once we've collected 1,000 stories, we'll analyze the experiences of women when it comes to raising capital, generating revenue and juggling work and family. Our hope is that the findings will help policymakers, the financial industry and others better address women's entrepreneurial needs.
As part of the research, we ask women on our submission form about the reasons for starting their business in the first place. Already, the early data is revealing that women around the world share similarities. Whether they are located in the U.S. or elsewhere, the No. 1 reason is "saw a need or gap in the market" -- perhaps not surprising as entrepreneurs (wherever they are located) are typically innovative sorts who come forward with solutions, instead of waiting for others to invent them.
But the second most common reason -- "to make a difference" -- is striking, mostly because it has nothing to do with profit. We hazard a guess that "revenue generation" or "wealth accumulation" might be higher up on the list if this were a survey of male entrepreneurs. The idea that women business owners are driven by a mission or social need is consistent with other research, such as the GEM Report on Social Entrepreneurship (also conducted by Babson). That survey finds that the rate of women creating social enterprises is surpassing that of men in many countries, including Russia, Malaysia and Argentina.
"I founded Substance151 with the vision to create a company with a conscience -- where success is measured not only on its profitability, but also on its environmental and social impact," Ida Cheinman told us in her submission. Her Baltimore branding firm is a B Corporation, a legal structure that allows a company to make its mission a priority over profit.
Holly Bantleman started her U.K. enterprise, Raise the Roof, to provide tin roofing for people living on a dumpsite in Kenya. "Our ultimate success will come when our mission is fulfilled," she said on her form. Danielle Gletow, a foster parent in New Jersey, launched her social enterprise, One Simple Wish, to grant wishes to foster children and "create a way for more people to support children at such a confusing and vulnerable time in their lives." Her submission has been one of the most popular items on TSE's site.
We've also heard about the challenges that women face as they start and grow their businesses. Lack of financing, particularly during the recent recession, is commonly cited.
Farah Majidzadeh, who started Resource International Inc. in the basement of her Ohio home in 1973, called the "hostile" banking situation after the 2008 crisis her biggest obstacle in 40 years. "As a small business, firms like mine no longer had the support of a friendly banker," she told us.
Still other female entrepreneurs report not being able to find funding at all, which could also be linked to gender bias. U.S. women who seek first-year financing receive about 80 percent less capital than men, according to research funded by the Kauffman Foundation.
The 1,000 Stories project comes at a time of high rates of entrepreneurship for women. Since 1997, the number of women-owned firms has grown at 1.5 times the national average, according to the 2013 State of Women-Owned Business Report, released by American Express OPEN. Women-owned firms added an estimated 175,000 jobs to the U.S. economy since 2007; among male-owned firms, employment has declined over the past six years.
Yet, most of the stories that capture media attention are those of high-growth startups, many of which are male-owned and not representative of the majority of small businesses. "The stories and the optic are so often male," says Victoria Wang, co-founder of The Story Exchange. "Our 1,000 Stories campaign will give women a platform and reveal their entrepreneurial needs."
A further goal of the 1,000 Stories project is to provide role models for women around the world who are struggling to start and grow businesses. On our submission form, we ask women who their role models are. Too often -- see examples like Tryna Gower, Michele Israel and Tracy Czech -- the answer is: "I don't have one." We hope to change that.
Click here to submit your story to The Story Exchange's 1,000 Stories project.