There’s a whole new breed of female entrepreneurs who are not afraid to get their hands dirty making their mark in male-dominated industries. From farming to construction and engineering to pest control, women are rolling up their sleeves and digging in. And nowhere are they making their presence more known than in the state of North Dakota.
North Dakota may not seem like a hotbed of success, but when it comes to women-owned businesses, no state has better growth, revenues or employment rates. Female-owned businesses have increased by 41.8 percent since 2007. Their companies employ 26,100 people statewide, bringing in over $4.5 billion in sales. Compared to other states, North Dakota-owned businesses start, grow and see healthier profits faster than other states.
In a 2015 “State of Women-Owned Business Report” commissioned by American Express® OPEN – A Summary of Important Trends, 1997-2015, North Dakota ranked no. 1 (combined rank), up from no. 5 in 2012.
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There’s something special happening here, maybe North Dakota has a rare kind of female leader -- one who leads with a pioneering spirit. Winters that keep a girl hearty, an agricultural focus, and geography are just a few factors that have held North Dakota’s population steady around 600,000 for the better part of a century. But when it comes to business women, the policies and legendary values of the state that’s in the middle of nowhere have become a proven recipe for success.
Do it on your own terms.
When I chose to transplant to North Dakota, I soon realized that this was a place where I could be successful on my own terms. While the East and West coasts have been magnets for fast growth entrepreneurs, businesses have been missing a hidden jewel in the middle.
Centered around Boston, NYC and DC, the East Coast is home to some of the best biotech and technology firms. Investors abound, and there are new venture accelerator supports like Harvard’s ilab and StartupHoyas -- places where traditional revenue-driven numbers are valued, and consumer-focused companies have to do exceptionally well to succeed.
On the opposite coast, Silicon Valley is a magnet for consumer-focused startups and businesses ready to scale. The help of relatively young, successful businesspersons with an abundance of capital give entrepreneurs a wealth of opportunity if they can spark interest in their ideas.
Then there's North Dakota. Sitting in the geographic center of North America, it’s a quiet state most people know for farmland, oil, the movie Fargo and that we have winter -- shocking, I know. Women have played a groundbreaking role in North Dakota’s development as long as people have walked the land. In pioneer days, they were helping to carve farm fields and sod homes from the wild prairie, and creating communities to help their families flourish and thrive. Today, I see this same ecosystem DNA of independence, character, sensibility and realism in North Dakota's entrepreneurial women.
We’re a state of women known for taking action.
According to the World Bank, it takes an average of five days to start a business in the United State. The Small Business Administration claims it can take three or more years before a company is profitable. If this weren't hard enough, Kauffman foundation has found the average cost to start a business is $30,000. Yet In North Dakota, women are starting businesses in record numbers, and these woman-owned ventures turn a profit earlier than their cohorts in other states.
One thing I decided early on is that I wanted to run a business on my own terms, which meant I wanted a business with purpose. Because of my farming upbringing, I had an idea that could revolutionize pest control. I wanted my company to stand for sustainable values and do no harm. I set out to work towards that unified purpose. While it has not always been easy, there’s a great deal of satisfaction that comes with knowing you have stuck to your values and gotten everyone aligned to achieve business success.
After conducting women's business round tables across the country, I’ve found that many women have a business idea in their minds for an average of 10 to 12 years before taking action. The growth of women-owned businesses in North Dakota demonstrates that women there are taking action on their ideas much more quickly, usually within two to four years.
One reason may have to do with the Women’s Business Center. Named a 2015 Center of Excellence, they foster action by running statewide classes helping women improve their leadership through community building, fundraising events and board memberships -- not so different than early pioneering women. Except this time, it's redefining what's really possible through business and female networks.
I began as a single mom with two young children, and to say that things were difficult is an understatement. But when you really believe this is what you are meant to be doing, somehow you can dig deep and tap into resources you never thought you had.
In my case, for instance, I was awarded a small agricultural diversification grant to test the waters with my new invention -- a new approach to rodent control. With the assistance of the North Dakota Agriculture Department, I was able to bring new jobs to the state as my business grew. Even though my company’s manufacturing is located closer to our customers, our corporate home remains here, and likely always will, due to the policy, people and place I call home.
I’m not sure if I had started in another state that the support would have been there in the same way as in North Dakota.
Disrupt the market.
In order to succeed, you must create your own rules, and disrupt before being disrupted. No doubt we live in extremely transformative times. With the fourth industrial revolution and a stream of technological innovations rapidly creating whole new industries, products, services and occupations, the race to seize this upside of disruption is off and running. I have learned the entrepreneurs who are more disruptive grow faster, create more jobs and attract more capital.
And I never stop leaning, from fellow entrepreneurs, business leaders, community leaders, top CEO’s, customers -- everyone I meet is an opportunity to further my knowledge and make a connection. You can’t disrupt the market by doing the same as everyone else, but you can take something away from every opportunity.
As an entomologist/entrepreneur's daughter, then a farmer’s wife, I have never been afraid of hard work, or of rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty. Now as a female entrepreneur, I realize that I have been preparing for this role for as long as I can remember. The difference is that I can now visualize the success thanks to the help of many great people in North Dakota and an idea that I could build a better mouse trap!