More Black Women Starting Businesses
(August 26, 2006) — Dr. Linda Clark spent years working as a medical director at a company before she'd decided she needed a change. She loved being in occupational medicine but she wanted more autonomy, and she had an interest in business.

So she started her own practice: Linda L. Clark M.D., M.S., P.C. Occupational Medicine Services.

"It wasn't until five years ago that I caught the business bug," said Clark, who received her medical degree from the University of Virginia. "My decision had to do with control over my own lifestyle and control over the use of my own life."

Clark now oversees two full-time employees and two part-time workers at her Rochester office, and says she has more time for herself, her family and community activities.

She is part of a national trend that has been growing since the late 1990s, which shows that more women — African-American women in particular — are trading corporate life for entrepreneurship.

African-American women are launching companies for many of the same reasons spurring other women. They've gained corporate experience, but a glass ceiling keeps them from rising to the CEO's office. They're better educated. Self-employment offers more flexibility to care for children and aging parents.

Linda Terrell, a former director of the Rochester Black Business Association, said she believes the number of businesses owned by African-American women is growing locally.

With larger companies' layoffs, affected workers, including African-American women, are deciding to go into business for themselves, she said.

"I think women can see their way clear that there are a lot of organizations to help start a business and get support for that business as well," Terrell said.

Driving startup growth

A new study shows that women drove much of the growth in black entrepreneurship.

African-American women owned 547,341 companies in 2002, up 75 percent from five years before, when the Census Bureau last counted, said the study by economist Ying Lowrey in the SBA's Office of Economic Research.

In Rochester, the female entrepreneurs interviewed said that they were inspired to start businesses so they could create something of their own.

Tonya Taylor launched the catering business Mis En Place in July, and is now partnering with Venu, a restaurant on St. Paul Street. Taylor is director of development and communications at the nonprofit Wilson Commencement Park and runs Mis En Place on the side.

"In general, African Americans are very entrepreneurial in spirit; the current economic climate gives us the realization that we can become anything we want to be," Taylor said. "It has led us to realize that owning our own business is really to secure our legacies with our own families. We can't be dependent on a corporation."

The 34-year-old is also motivated by her young daughter.

Other women say they were driven to go out on their own because they felt they had hit a glass ceiling at work.

That was the case with Denise Williams, 36, who spent 13 years working for other people before she launched D.M. Williams Funeral Homes Inc. in Gates.

"I figure if I could run someone else's company for 10 solid years I could do that for myself," Williams said. Although she now works longer hours, and is not guaranteed a paycheck, she said that she wouldn't consider working for someone else again.

"Corporate America is still dominated by men .... There is a glass ceiling; you can only go so high," she said, adding that entrepreneurship gives ambitious and skilled women another avenue. "It's 'give us an opportunity, or we'll go out on our own.'"

It is a trend that seems like it is here to stay, says Florence Worden, small business advisor with the State University College at Brockport Small Business Development Center, which offers counseling and services to startups and small businesses.

"I think if they see opportunity out there in their own target area ... they start thinking they can fulfill those needs," she said.

Includes reporting by staff writer David Tyler and USA Today's Jim Hopkins.

Newer Story Return To List Older Story