The chef and owner of Cake Street Sweets learned to push aside the voice in her head that said, “You can’t do this … What were you thinking?”
It became the most difficult when an obstacle would arise, such as the delay in the receipt of the state grant she needed in order to pay the architect, sign company, construction firm, and food orders, recalled Kayla Renfroe, who has owned the Cohoes bakery since April.
“These were the times the voice of doubt would creep in,” she said. “I ended up getting a bridge loan with the city of Cohoes just to get me through while I was waiting for the grant money.”
In starting a new business, Renfroe advises anyone on that track to keep working on the tasks you can and try not to get overwhelmed by the overall project.
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Her effort paid off. While Renfroe experienced some difficulties launching her new business, she is among the increasing number of female entrepreneurs in the Capital Region, according to Sean Maguire, director of economic development of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission.
Female-owned firms employed 19,551 individuals in the region (as of March 12, 2012) with a total payroll of $680,506,000, the latest U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons conducted in 2012 said. They had sales, receipts, or shipments of $3,186,756,000.
“You can see that there has been an across the board increase [from 2007] in female-owned firms with or without paid employees,” Maguire said.
As of March 2012, 36 percent of businesses were owned by women in New York, and 32 percent in the Capital Region, according to the latest Census figures.
Janet Tanguay, entrepreneurship manager from the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, said female entrepreneurship continues to grow in the Capital Region.
“I see more women-owned businesses coming into our entrepreneur boot camp classes as well as asking for assistance with MWBE [Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise] certification,” she said. “Regionally, there is also a surge in women-owned businesses in industries that have traditionally been dominated by men. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives like Albany Can Code, and women in construction, is becoming much more common.”
New York State encourages doing business with minority and women business enterprise certified companies, Tanguay said.
“I think we’re seeing a merge of entrepreneurship and feminism,” she said. “There are entrepreneur training programs around the region and networking organizations that connect women to investors.”
Lower interest rates and expanded financing options create a robust environment for commercial lending to women, Tanguay added.
Growth among female entrepreneurs is evident by the area’s large number of women’s professional organizations, said Sujata Chaudhry, owner of Tangible Development, a diversity, inclusion, and global training and consultancy firm.
“In the Capital Region, the success of Women@Work is a testament to the growth,” Chaudhry said. “It is a growth sector with the new requirements from the state to support WBE and the opportunities available to bid on contracts.”
Chaudhry, who has owned her own firm since January of 2011, said requirements for starting your own business can seem straightforward, but entrepreneurs should be prepared to provide documentation, such as financial statements, three years of federal income tax returns, and evidence of gender to qualify for incentives or programs available to women-owned businesses, to name a few.
“Compiling all the documents can be exhaustive,” she said. “It takes time to process and receive your certification.”
Chaudhry recommended understanding the special requirements for each type of business entity such as an LLC, Partnership, or Corporation.
“New York State offers assistance in navigating the process,” Chaudhry said. “Do not hesitate to reach out to a city or state agency for guidance.”
Chaudhry chose to locate her business in the Capital Region because it is centrally located to major metropolitan cities, such as New York City and Boston. The area also has progressive, changing demographics that require Tangible Development’s services as well as a supportive community of business leaders, she said.
The Small Business Development Center at the University at Albany, local Chambers of Commerce, and seminars and “lunch and learn” opportunities to support business efforts have all helped her.
Renfroe, who opened Cake Street Sweets in April, said the entrepreneur boot camp class with the Albany Chamber of Commerce helped her most.
“Any business class would be helpful but this one was huge for me in regard to the connections I made and confidence I built by diving in to this program,” Renfroe said.
Renfroe said she chose Cohoes after receiving the micro-grant offered to new businesses employing workers in a few select low-income areas. She has been a pastry chef in the Capital Region for the past decade after graduating from The Culinary Institute of America.
“Cohoes has been an incredibly close and supportive community that I could not feel more welcome in,” Renfroe said. “There is definitely room for female entrepreneurs here in Cohoes. There are developers buying up all the open buildings and City Hall is absolutely hungry for new high-end businesses that will cater to not only the long-standing residents, but also the new ones that are moving into the Lofts and the brand new apartments on and around Remsen Street.”
Ruth Walters, owner of Walters Group Consulting, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has placed a premium on working with women-owned businesses.
“There is an increased awareness and eagerness to launch new businesses and to encourage majority contractors to work with us,” she said. “I strongly believe that there is an ever-expanding group of women owners, operators and leaders who support one another and work towards others’ success.”
Meanwhile, women need to be in business for an entire year before applying for MWBE status.
According to Tanguay, MWBE status allows firms to be listed in the online directory of certified minority and women-owned business enterprises; New York State agencies, public authorities, federal agencies, corporations and schools that are searching for vendors search this database when they are making purchasing decisions.
“All the more reason for those women thinking of starting a WBE business to begin as soon as the idea pops into their head,” Walters said, recommending that entrepreneurs form a limited liability corporation or file their DBA — “doing business as” — paperwork to “begin the clock ticking.”
As far as the current low participation rate of women in the workforce, Walters said it could be that there are still “glass ceilings” especially in larger local companies. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, U.S. labor force participation reached 30 percent among women compared to 33.6 percent among men from 2011 to 2015 (see table). During the same time period, labor force participation in New York reached 30.6 percent among women and 32.9 percent among men. And labor force participation in Albany County reached 32 percent among women and 32.9 percent among men during the same time period.
Historically, labor force participation has never risen above 67.3 percent nationally, according to Maguire.
“Look at the list of top CEOs in the area,” she said. “There is a pathetic lack of women on the list. Therefore, many of us feel as though the deck is stacked against us and we need to strike out on our own in order to be truly successful.”