Women in Small Business

These five exceptional women serve as an example for all women as they followed their passions and created their own successful companies.

“Honor your talents and act like a woman – a smart woman – who knows how to jump over business obstacles, even in heels.”

— Nancy Clark, CEO of WomensMedia

Currently, there are an estimated 10 million woman-owned, privately-held small businesses in the United States, according to the Small Business Association. Women are quickly becoming important entrepreneurs in our country as they keep up with men in the business world. In decades past, men were the only ones who could own small businesses. Today, women are a major contributing force to small businesses across the nation and have a promising outlook for the future. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women entrepreneurs are generating nearly $1.2 trillion in revenues, and provide jobs for 9.8 million people.

In honor of Women’s History Month, America’s Best is honoring five of the most inspiring women in the world of small business today. From the empowering Krystal Vierkant, a woman breaking gender barriers in the trucking industry, to Lisa Druxman, a mom following her entrepreneurial instincts to create a new fitness program, these women point to an optimistic and successful future of women in small businesses.

Krystal Vierkant, founder of Rock On Enterprises, had no intention of creating a successful business of aggregate trucking when she took over payments of a truck and trailer. Krystal hired a friend to drive the truck, and Krystal managed her new business she called Rock On. With business starting to grow, many customers noticed Vierkant’s outstanding customer service, and many people began coming to Rock On for their trucking needs. After seven years of service, Rock On has turned into an empire that boosted Vierkant into success.

Founded in 2001, Rock On Enterprises has grown exponentially due to Vierkant’s business experience and excellent customer service. Today, Rock On Enterprises is still run by Vierkant and her 22 employees at their office in Waite Park, Minnesota, just outside of St. Cloud. Rock On has six different divisions, including truck brokering with Rock On Trucks, wholesale landscaping with Rock On Rocks, and construction and debris waste handling with Rock On Roll Off. These different branches not only give Rock On Enterprises diversity, but have given the company various ways to bring in more income. “With this changing economy, we can’t put all of our eggs in one basket,” explains Vierkant. The initial success of Rock On has Vierkant hoping for a growing customer base in the future. “Right now, the focus is to keep, maintain, and effectively grow the divisions we have,” says Vierkant.

Success did not always come easy for Vierkant as a woman in a male-dominated field. The banker at the loan office did not take her seriously when she first applied for a loan, nor did some initial customers. One customer commented that he was only using Rock On because it was a “disadvantaged women’s business” and met their company’s quota. “I was so pride stricken, I almost didn’t take the work,” said Vierkant. “I sucked up my pride, did the best job I could do, and now we do even more work for this customer. Not because of the quota, but because they know they can count on our service.” With her will to succeed and passion for business, Vierkant has proven herself as a successful woman in a male-dominant field. For women starting their own businesses, Krystal Vierkant says to never give up. “Many times when you’re starting your own company, other companies and people are jealous and not so keen on your successes. They will do or say anything to bring you down, but never give up. You’re not doing it for other people, but you’re doing it for yourself.”

Twenty years ago, Payal Tak had thought of the idea for a telecommunications company which provides technology support and service. Upon receiving her bachelors degree in computer science and masters degree in telecommunications, Tak took a job which required her to work outrageous 15 hour days. She knew it was time to put her plan into action. In September 1998, Tak started Telesis, a telecommunications company based on her idea from 10 years before. Telesis provides telecommunication services to hundreds across the nation, including the United States Departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Transportation, and Agriculture, just to name a few.

Tak realized that telecommunications is a male-dominated industry after she made the jump to start Telesis. She welcomed the challenge, or the “invitation to success, as Tak saw it. Upon starting Telesis, Tak would sometimes find herself at conferences with only 20 women out of 200 attendees. But, she never let herself be discouraged, nor found herself disadvantaged as a woman. Today, Tak is committed to creating professional growth opportunities for women in the workplace. “Universally, women have a unique ability to multitask, pay attention to detail, and they are communicators. That is what we need in this industry,” said Tak. Her advice to women who are hopeful to start their own business is to lead with confidence and integrity. “Observe everything around you; learn from others’ mistakes; avoid errors that could come back to haunt you later; and always keep your eyes on your target.”

Tak is very proud of her accomplishments and places importance on customer service. “I started Telesis because I always thought there was a better way of delivering a client’s requirements and that a vendor can always go a step further,” said Tak. Telesis’s tag line is “…Where We Exceed Expectations,” which is exactly what Tak and her business has done. Continuously, Telesis goes the extra mile for its clients. Tak herself puts in more than eight hours a day at work, every single day. “I probably owe myself thousands of hours of sleep!” Tak joked.

Without her team of over 120 employees, Telesis would not be the outstanding business it is today. “I am most proud of our outstanding team of professionals, our employees, who are our representatives in the field and who consistently deliver the promise of our tagline,” said Tak. Telesis is one of the fastest-growing 8(a), SDB, Woman Owned, MBE certified companies in the United States. In 2005, Tak was recognized as the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

After having a child, Lisa Druxman did not want to go back to her full time job. Instead, she followed her entrepreneurial instincts to create a career that was supportive of motherhood. By blending her passions for fitness and motherhood, Druxman created Stroller Strides. As a fitness guest on KUSI San Diego News, Druxman promoted Stroller Strides like a business, even though it was still in the beginning stages. Putting her personal cell phone number and e-mail on the news, Druxman had 75 e-mails waiting for her upon returning home from the studio. It was then she knew that she was on to something.

A fitness program for mothers and their children, Stroller Strides is an ingenious way for mothers and infants to interact while mothers exercise. This new “mom fitness” program helps women who want to lose weight while still interacting with their children. Druxman believes the most important aspect of Stroller Strides is giving women the strength for motherhood. “Being a mom is hard, and hard on your body. We give women the physical strength that they never knew they had, but also the support they need,” explained Druxman. “We want to help women love motherhood. It’s a very feel good program.”

Mothers are not the sole beneficiary to this program. Children also have a positive outcome with participation in Stroller Strides. “In a day and age where children are growing up with diabetes and obesity, we need to get kids started on the right foot,” explained Druxman. “In Stroller Strides, the kids see that [their] mom exercises regularly and likes it. They see that fitness is fun. Kids mimic everything, so we see toddlers ‘playing’ Stroller Strides,” said Druxman. Songs and activities are incorporated into the workout for the children in the strollers, while the mothers burn calories and build muscle. Additionally, Stroller Strides instructors have a curriculum for the children, teaching the alphabet, numbers, colors, and other themes to add education during the session.

Druxman depends on Stroller Strides as much as her clients do. It has taught her that she needs to take care of herself in order to take care of her family. “It recharges me on the days that I feel depleted. It gives me the physical strength to keep up with my two kids. It provides me with ideas and support for when I’m struggling with different parenting issues,” explained Druxman.

Currently, Stroller Strides has classes in 47 states with approximately 20,000 women participating. In 2008, Druxman was awarded “Woman Business Owner of the Year” by the National Association of Women Business Owners. Stroller Strides was honored on the 2008 list of Entrepreneur magazine’s Fastest-Growing Franchises. Druxman owes the inspiration for Stroller Strides to her son. “I started my business to have a career that’s supportive of motherhood. That has kept me on a business path for seven years in business!” Druxman advises other mothers who are aspiring business owners to keep in mind why they want to start a business. “If it’s to be with your kids, think carefully because most businesses don’t give you time with your children. If it’s to make money, think carefully because most businesses take time to create a profit.”

Mya Jacobson spent seven years of her life as a trader on the American Stock Exchange while pursuing a law degree at night. “The market had changed, and everything was becoming electronic. I didn’t like the nature of the business, and I needed something more fulfilling,” says Jacobson. After her company closed, Jacobson finally had a chance to think about what she wanted to do in life. She wanted to feel that sense of fulfillment as many of her close friends and family knew. Jacobson combined her love for baking, as well as her entrepreneurial and philanthropic instincts to create her cookie business.

Feed Your Soul is a cookie company Jacobson created to literally “feed her soul.” The three core ideas for Feed Your Soul are: baking truly delicious, oven-fresh cookies, providing inspirational words, and finding a means to give to those with less. Jacobson combines these three principles in each sale at Feed Your Soul. Her gift packaged, homemade cookies include an inspirational quote from thinkers, such as Ghandi or Aristotle. Additionally, one percent of the net profit goes towards a charity of the customer’s choice. Some of the charities Feed Your Soul donates to are the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Feed Your Soul has a variety of gift baskets for various occasions with a relevant inspirational quote. Party favors with customized boxes and tins are suitable for weddings, showers, anniversary parties, and more. Feed Your Soul business gifts include corporate logo services, employee incentive programs, and volume discounts. Jacobson has even made it possible to feed the souls of cats and dogs.

From the initial challenge of baking out of a studio apartment to growing to full scale production, Jacobson’s business has come a long way. Feed Your Soul has a café, which offers cookies baked fresh daily. Additionally, Jacobson has managed to produce profits during the economic crisis by turning to the wholesale market. Feed Your Soul cookies are offered in stores, coffee houses, gyms, and other retail locations across the nation, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Dean & DeLuca. The biggest success to Feed Your Soul has been the loyal customers. “The great following of loyal customers is a testament to the product. The Internet is flooding with buyers, and the cookies are selling off the shelves in stores,” says Jacobson. She has marketed Feed Your Soul in three steps: picking a product to appeal to people, figuring out her niche market and audience, and figuring out why her product is better than others. This has won Feed Your Soul the New Jersey SBDC Small Business Success Award in 2006, and Jacobson’s business continues to grow. She hopes that within five years, Feed Your Soul will be a household name and a lifestyle product. “It’s the things in life that feed your soul that matter the most, and celebrating those moments with people you love is timeless,” says Jacobson.

With over twenty years of travel experience, Deborah Mayer has scoured the globe for great bargains. After traveling across four continents, Mayer came across outlet shops off the beaten path in Europe. She wanted to create her own tour company for travelers who share her passions for travel and shopping. In spring of 2001, Shop Around Tours was born. Shop Around Tours takes travelers to destinations in Italy to find the designer outlet malls that house some of the best deals in the world. Included in the price is the airfare from New York, a four-star hotel, meals, and time to sightsee and shop independently. Mayer provides her tour groups with itineraries that allow free time for visiting the sites of Italy while getting great bargains on designer items as well.

Shop Around Tours got started on a shaky foot. As Mayer’s business started in the Spring of 2001, the tour quickly sold out in a couple of weeks. In the process of finalizing the tour, the tragic events of September 11 occurred. “The biggest challenge in starting Shop Around Tours is starting a travel business in a very bad travel climate,” Mayer said. Although there were a few cancellations on the first flight, Mayer stuck with her business and worked to build her business in a trying time. Her hard work paid off, and Shop Around Tours began to grow. The biggest success thus far is the diversity in their tour products. “We started out with one tour, and I had many ideas for more,” said Mayer. Multiple tours produced loyal customers who have taken the different tours to have a unique experience each time. Mayer is currently working on a new destination, but due to the current economic situation, it may have to hold off for a few more months. There are currently three tour products which are offered at various times during the year. “It is hard to expand because of our very high standards,” said Mayer. “We offer shopping tours to great places with great shopping. It is essential to know the ins and outs of every place we go to live up to the Shop Around Tours promise.”

Online advertising has played a role in Shop Around Tours, but word-of-mouth advertising has made Mayer’s business so successful. “People will go on a tour and tell their friends about their trip and convince one of their friends to sign up for the next tour,” Mayer said. About ten percent of passengers come back and travel with Shop Again Tours at a later date because of the great deals; some women have traveled three times. About 25 women participate in each tour, and quite a few travel solo, but quickly make friends with the other women on the trip. “There is nobody ever alone on our tours,” says Mayer, “these passengers are nice, warm, and terrific people.” Often, women take a trip with Shop Around Tours, and end up organizing a private charter with her own group of friends. Spreading the word about the business has proved to be a successful marketing tool for Mayer. For the future, she hopes that the economy will turn around so people will travel more, as well as to diversify into another location and build on her successes in Italy.

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Reader Comments

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 2:58 PM
Karen Kalisek says:
I want to thank you for the quote at the beginning of the article. Nancy Clark has been mentioned many times as a voice for working women. Her background serves proof she is a professional in the field of gender and diversity issues.

I would like to invite you to view our new look at www.WomensMedia.com. We recently relaunched a new image in conjunction with Gender Pay Day. We are constantly expanding a library of over 200 articles from notables such as Madilyn Albright and Suze Orman. However "new," we continue to provide "Expert Advice for Working Women."

WomensMedia.com currently receives 30,000 unique views per month, with 20% of those overseas, and has a Google ranking of 6. We do not male bash, but rather endorse the idea that both males and females have significant offerings to bring to the table. WomensMedia also produces a newsletter, blog-Women's Lunch Talk and podcast - Working in Heels.

Please, take a moment to read our story. WM started as a simple idea which has produced support for women worldwide. It always amazes me the vast range of topics that are important to women! If you Google "filing systems," we come in #1. If you Google, "crying at work," we come in #1. This just goes to show that no matter where we are on this Earth, women carry many of the same concerns.

Thank you, again!
Karen Kalisek
Executive VP of Business Development
Women's Media
Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 8:54 AM
MS Charisma says:
I found these stories to be inspiring, I too have strted my own Home Healthcare Business. And I was getting a little discouraged . Because I am excited and want these to kick off fast . However it's still details and these to be established. But I found Inspiration in these stories. ROCK ON!!!!

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