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Fall 2007

Boston Globe - Diversity Boston Supplement

When Jameel Webb-Davis decided to start her own personal finance business, she left behind a prestigious job at a Fortune 500 company. There were bills to pay, two mortgages to support, and a two-year-old son to raise, but she took the leap and has never looked back. "I felt like I was getting a huge paycheck but not contributing to the world," says Webb-Davis, who managed financial data for actuaries. "I was tired of helping rich people get richer."

Webb-Davis, president of MJOrganizers, a Medford-based company, is one of the eight million female-owned businesses in the United States. According to the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE), the number of businesses owned by women entrepreneurs like Webb-Davis continues to grow at twice the rate of all U.S. firms, with one in 18 women in the U.S. being a business owner. Many women try entrepreneurship because of frustration at being overlooked in the corporate world - the impenetrable "glass ceiling" - as well as the advantages of balancing work and family life when you're your own boss.

But the path toward entrepreneurship can be confusing, says Webb-Davis, who found that despite all her money know-how, she wasn't really prepared for starting her own business. A series of seminars at the Center for Women and Enterprise (CWE) helped her maneuver the often confusing path toward entrepreneurship. She started with introductory courses on business planning, then learned about marketing and operational issues. She connected with other CWE participants at networking groups and forums. And today? Webb-Davis says she has a solid client list, speaking engagements at various organizations, and most of all, "I feel like I'm making a difference."

In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, CWE has trained more than 13,000 women, and men, since 1995. They've also helped to secure business loans for clients, provided legal counsel, and enabled entrepreneurs to create new jobs. Although CWE was established to assist economically disadvantaged women with little formal business training, its clients have started not just home-based and small retail businesses, but also multi-million dollar technology businesses. With offices in Boston, Worcester, and Providence, CWE's goal is to empower women to be economically self-sufficient and prosperous through entrepreneurship.

Although there are many issues that all entrepreneurs face, male and female, Sheila Murphy, CWE's chief operating officer, says that women tend to struggle more with issues of work-family balance, have less access to capital funding, and even display lower levels of self-confidence. "Women usually don't have as many entrepreneurial role models and often realize much later in life that entrepreneurship is an option," says Murphy.

Maria Ngo, a Puerto Rican immigrant who started E&K Staffing Services in Southbridge five years ago, says that opening her company has allowed her to spend more time with her two children while generating enough revenue to purchase her family's first home last year. She secures part-time positions for more than 60 temps and employs four staffers. "I like being my own boss and having the flexibility that having my own business offers me," says Ngo, whose two daughters, Kimberly, 5, and Emily, 8, come to the office with her every day. "I can be a mother as well as professional."

Not all CWE clients are women. With the help of CWE, South Easton resident Joe Maglio launched It's About Thyme, a personal chef service. "I had the cooking experience but the center helped me set up a business plan and understand my target market," says Maglio, who took an intensive class at the Boston office. "The programs are geared toward all entrepreneurs and not women only."

CWE also increasingly attempts to attract Hispanic business hopefuls and is offering two classes - "Choosing Your Legal Entity" and "Steps to Starting Your Business" - in Spanish, with more to come, says Suzanne Perry, chief marketing officer. "Becoming an entrepreneur is an opportunity to have independence and attain prosperity in return for working hard and having a challenging but rewarding career," says Perry. "It gives women more control over their lives."

Entrepreneur Webb-Davis agrees. Her business is still evolving, with MJOrganizers spinning off into an additional venture, Start Money Smart, which provides high school students with practical financial management education. The work she once did as a volunteer - teaching others about money - she is now being paid for.

She has one piece of advice to budding entrepreneurs: "Pay attention to what you're passionate about, and not what will make a lot of money. Find something that moves you and gets you all tingly, and everything will fall into place."

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