Marlo Zosel

Marlo Zosel talks with a client in her home on Nov. 19, 2019, in Oronoco. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

If starting a business is about timing, many women in southeastern Minnesota are striking now. 

Oronoco business woman Marlo Zosel started out as a life coach five years ago, and no one knew what she did. Today, she works with 30 clients, helping them reach their personal and career goals. Business is good.

"It seems to be the focus: Now is the time to jump," said Zosel about the opportunities for female startups. "Women are just as capable of being business owners as men. That's being recognized in our culture."

The trend in Rochester is reflected nationwide. "The Economist" named the economic empowerment of women as one of the biggest revolutions in the last half century. Women contribute more than $3 million to the economy and own more than 36 percent of the businesses. 

Much of the vigor and energy in the current economy is attributable to women. One study showed that the number of female-owed businesses increased 21 percent from 2014 to 2019, while all businesses increased only 9 percent. Total employment by female-owned businesses rose 8 percent, while for all businesses, the rise was just 1.8 percent. 

'A dynamic environment'

While data on female-owned businesses in Rochester is scarce, Rochester women say the surge is attributable to a host of factors. Kristi Moore, owner of a Rochester staging and styling business called Soul Purpose Home, says women can find support and advice for their startups from a wide range of sources.

From Facebook to female bloggers to forums and trade organizations, a network of experts and resources exists to help women get into business. 

"It's a dynamic environment, and I'm really glad for the resources," Moore said. 

When Saint Mary's University's Kabara Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies held its first forum at Cascade Meadow on a cold January morning, the room overflowed with more than 50 women. The institute has done nine panels and workshops this year, and a full slate of them is planned for next year. 

"There is a real hunger for the education component," said Christine Beech, director of the institute. "People want to network at our events as well. It creates a connection." 

The Kabara Institute is a co-curricular program based in both Rochester and Winona. Jon Kabara, a 1948 SMU science alum, started a biobusiness that nearly tanked. He realized he knew science but had little business training. Thanks to his wife, Betty, a savvy businesswoman, his business survived and flourished, but he wanted to help others avoid his pitfalls and mistakes. 

The institute seeks to connect students with experienced entrepreneurs and programming.

Unique to women

While the majority of challenges women and men face in starting a business are similar, some are unique to women. A perennial topic at the Kabara forums is the difficulty women and minorities face in obtaining capital. Balancing a growing business with family responsibilities is another. 

Zosel started her life-coaching business after her children started going to school. A former special education teacher, Zosel wanted to apply the same goal-setting techniques she used as teacher to reach a wider arena of people. 

She works through a franchise company that provides her a platform to run her business. She is paid through the company, but it's her business, run the way she wants to. 

"I'm able to grow my client base and satisfy my desire to serve people," Mosel said. 

Zosel said the Kabara forums have helped her hone her business sense.

"As an entrepreneur, it's important for me to have that sense that I'm not alone," she said. 

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