Guest Column

Women business owners vital part of state’s economic fabric

October 27, 2012
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I’ve been a woman entrepreneur in West Michigan for some time, and this month I attended two distinctive events celebrating women business owners.

In Novi, the Center of Empowerment and Economic Development hosted its annual two-day conference, bringing in hundreds of women business owners to celebrate and further our accomplishments. CEED offers resources for second-stage business owners, such as the opportunity called Meet the Buyer. Women are encouraged not only to determine if a company is buying their goods or services and to arrange for furthering that conversation, but also are encouraged to become second-tier suppliers to the multi-billion dollar corporations represented.

The average certified woman-owned business in the Great Lakes region (there are 900 of us) has annual revenue of $12.3 million, employs 40 families, and is experiencing an annual growth rate of 8 percent.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Michigan Women’s Foundation and Walsh College sponsored Entrepreneur YOU, a woman business owner business plan competition for cash awards.

The caliber of this group of women entrepreneurs was phenomenal. First prize went to Dr. Angelique Johnson of MEMStim LLC. Johnson and her team have developed a smaller and cheaper nerve stimulator through innovation, and now are able to mass produce the wires. Currently, each wire is handmade. Johnson’s vision is to bring the manufacturing to a Michigan foundry that can adapt to the requirements. Her customers will be the current neurostimulator manufacturers who will enjoy the cost savings of her product.

Second prize went to Susan Sprentall and SurClean, an earth-friendly, energy-efficient and cost-effective, laser-based surface coating removal system, currently targeting large aircraft.  Sprentall has a commitment already from a large Air Force base that will use her product to clean and repair its planes faster, cheaper and with less hazardous waste.

Third prize went to a true innovator who saw a need and produced a solution. Angela McCommons’ Kids Kruiser LLC is a premium transportation service (think taxi) serving youth ages 3 to 18 in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas. A working mother can’t leave the office to get her child from school to soccer practice? After interviewing and approving a Kids Kruiser driver, the mother can arrange a secure escort for her child from one safe environment to the next. After arrival, the mother receives a text that her child has been safely transported, and everyone wins.

When the Michigan Women’s Foundation opened up the registration process for companies wanting to compete, it hoped for 50 applicants. It received 150. As one of the judges of the final 10 contestants, I am left to wonder about the high caliber of business proposals that didn’t make the cut.

Both events serve to underscore again that Michigan women business owners are a vital part of the economic fabric that will bring this state back to its feet (are you listening, Doug Rothwell?). It provides evidence that women today are busy dreaming and performing big things that will bring innovation and cost savings to consumers at every level. It emphasizes again how women need to step forward and be recognized for these achievements, because our daughters, nieces and granddaughters think that women have always been in space, that women have always been heads of universities, that women have always led big businesses, and that women have always been editors of business journals.

There is a wealth of experience to be garnered by tapping into the women business owners who are making it happen today (are you paying attention, West Michigan corporate boards?).

Encourage your woman business owner to be recognized for all her time and contribution by having her register for GRBJ’s Top Women Owned Business awards at grbj.com.

Women business owners are becoming an undeniable force in West Michigan.

 Beverly Wall is the CEO of Languages International Inc., a foreign language solution center and also a certified Women’s Business Enterprise.

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