Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
Make Mine a Million Comes to Wisconsin
Several months ago, when I was asked by Inacom co-owner Laurie Benson to help judge a Wisconsin women entrepreneurs "contest," I was intrigued. I had heard of Nell Merlino, founder and CEO of Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence and creator of "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," but I was not familiar with the "Make Mine a Million $ Business™ Program" (MM$M), which was founded by Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence with support from American Express.
The program was something new, and organizers had selected Wisconsin for its first-ever statewide program. The concept was to put a call out for business plan entries; narrow it down to 15 finalists and give those women entrepreneurs the opportunity to "pitch" their idea to an audience of their peers.
After the judges and audience members' results were tallied, eight of the 16 would be rewarded with mentoring, money and marketing resources they need to help them cross the million-dollar billing threshold.
On May 21, several hundred women entrepreneurs gathered at the Concourse Hotel in Madison for a day of presentations, lunch and networking. As one of the judges, I was genuinely impressed by quality of the presentations of each and every one of the finalists. The businesses that they have started varied from a diaper service in Rock Springs – with the catchy name of Tiny Tush, LLC - to a drug screening company – Express Drug Screening – in Germantown. The variety of proposed businesses was as diverse as the women themselves.
However, the one common thread throughout was that the women all had a vision that they were passionate about. Whether making chocolate or teaching children to swim, the women had each embarked upon a journey to carve out their own personal professional niche – and were eager to learn from national experts who had taken their own visions and turned them into money-making realities.
As we forge our way into the 21st century, the nation's business landscape is ever-changing. Gone are the days when an individual started at a job and retired from the same company after 40 years. As jobs are lost due to changing trends or new technology, it will be up to the forward-thinking entrepreneurs such as the women participating in MM$M to blaze a trail to create new ones for the future economy.
As of 2006, there are an estimated 176,048 privately-held, women-owned firms in Wisconsin, generating $38 billion in sales and employing 289,020 people. It is estimated that the number of women-owned firms grew by 20.07 percent from 1997 to 2006. Wisconsin currently ranks 29th in the growth in the number of privately-held, majority (51 percent or more) women-owned firms during that time period. Hopefully, thanks to programs such as MM$M, that will soon change.
Here at the Department of Commerce (Commerce), we have announced a new certification program for women-owned businesses. The WBE certification was established to facilitate contract capabilities for WBE businesses with public and private sector entities. It provides credibility to women-owned firms; and entities who choose to do business with WBE's are confident that their reporting of dollars spent with WBE's will be verifiable and credible.
Unfortunately, there is still a disparity between wages/salaries of men and women. However, as women continue to mentor, network and share business-building strategies with each other, we will close that gap. Wisconsin has always been known as the "Forward State." It is my hope that the women of our great state will take the lessons learned at MM$M and help lead the way for the rest of the country in recognizing the potential – and importance – of women entrepreneurs to the nation's economy.
If you're thinking about starting a business, or working hard to get a fledgling one off the ground, visit our Commerce website (commerce.wi.gov) and that of the Make Mine a Million $ Business™ at www.makemineamillion.org, and perhaps we'll see you up on stage at the next competition.
--Mary P. Burke, Secretary
The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.
Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.