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Female entrepreneurs find woman-to-woman support

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Female entrepreneurs find woman-to-woman support
Dr. Lesa Dennis-Mahamed, owner of Gallery Eyecare, will participate in this year’s Women-Owned Business Networking Breakfast, organized by Dudley Square Main Streets. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

March is Women’s History Month, as fitting a time as any to consider the existence, impact and unique needs of women business owners.

In Boston, 18,709 woman-owned businesses employ 26,209 people, account for more than $4 billion in sales and provide more than $208 million in tax revenue, according to Women Entrepreneurs Boston (WE BOS). Yet by many accounts, women face greater challenges in raising capital and attracting investment for their businesses and in finding mentors and supportive networks.

On the web

Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement: www.boston.gov/departments/womens-advancement

WE BOS: we-bos.com

Dudley Square Main Streets: www.dudleysquare.org

Women-Owned Business Networking Breakfast: http://bit.ly/2lyf1N8

Wonder Women of Boston: http://wonderwomenboston.com

A program of the city of Boston’s Office of Small Business and Office of Women’s Advancement, WE BOS was launched in 2015 to help convene and support women entrepreneurs.

“Women are the majority in our city, and they are drivers of economy,” says Megan Costello, executive director of the Office of Women’s Advancement, “but they face barriers in access to funding and investment.”

Costello’s office is honoring Women’s History Month with a social media campaign highlighting women heroes. Ongoing services offered by the city for women in business include salary negotiation and other workshops and support of policy research on topics such as the gender wage gap.

Costello says she has heard from women entrepreneurs who went to make their pitch and were asked about whether they were planning to start a family, or other questions men are not typically asked.

“So, unconscious bias exists. Investors may not realize some of the biases they have,” she says.

Blazing a trail

When Jeanne Dasaro, founder of Wonder Women of Boston, started her first business, a media startup focused on economic and social justice, she felt skepticism as she sought the necessary legal, web development and design services.

“Often when I would talk about the idea or the concept or launching the business, men and women perceived me differently,” Dasaro says. “Men seemed to think it was more of a hobby or side business.”

Now, Dasaro works to convene women-focused workshops and events, including small “sip and share” gatherings in Boston area neighborhoods, a “strength and courage” speaker series and large networking events at which some 150 people, primarily women, mingle and make connections.

About 30 percent of Wonder Women’s 3,600 members are small business owners, Dasaro says. She is pleased that Boston has developed a strong climate of support for new businesses.

“Ten years ago, Boston was a very different ecosystem,” she says. “Now there’s a lot more happening — incubators, co-working spaces, groups focused on women, technology. Almost any night of the week, you have different events or workshops to choose from about starting a business or networking with other business owners. That’s been very cool to see.”

If you go

This year’s Women-Owned Business Networking Breakfast will be on Tuesday, March 14 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building. The event is free. For more information and to RSVP, visit: www.eventbrite.com/e/dudley-square-5th- annual-women- owned-business-networking-breakfast-tickets-31741280023

Business breakfast

In Roxbury, Dudley Square Main Streets hosts a large gathering for women entrepreneurs each spring. Its fifth annual Women-Owned Business Networking Breakfast, co-sponsored by Boston Private Community Investment, Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, Boston Main Streets and WE BOS, will be held March 14 in the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building.

Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Square Main Streets, says she first devised the networking event as a way to honor Women’s History Month, and it has grown over the years to 100 or more attendees. Past event themes have included leadership and crowd-funding. This year, three local business owners will speak about how they moved from start-up to growth.

“A lot of businesses never get to growth,” Stanley says.

The event attracts a wide range of business types.

“You’d be surprised,” Stanley says, ticking off diverse examples: contractors, architects, engineers, artists, investment brokers, marketing consultants, actors, comics, bloggers, lawyers, cake bakers, jewelry makers, realtors.

The featured entrepreneur speakers this year are Dr. Lesa Dennis-Mahamed, owner of Gallery Eye Care in Dudley Square; Faithlyn Scarlett, owner of Faith’s Naturals in Jamaica Plain; and Ana Maria Timas Fidalgo, owner of Davey’s Market and Nos Casa Cafe and a well-known figure in the local Cape Verdean community.

Costello of the Women’s Advancement Office attends each year and says the well-attended breakfast event is a good model for how to support women’s networking.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that we have to be intentional about the challenges women face. This [networking] space allows people to share best practices.”

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