Helping female entrepreneurs grow in Utah
Small businesses are the backbone of Utah’s economy. Around 90 percent of Utah businesses are small businesses, many of which are owned by women. And the number of women-owned businesses in Utah is continuing to climb.
In fact, the 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express, ranked Utah sixth in the nation for states where, in the last decade, women-owned businesses have most increased their economic clout. Utah is full of inspiring female entrepreneurs seeking to change the face of boardrooms, industries, and small businesses. From my perspective, this will only continue.
This year, we celebrate 150 years of equal suffrage in Utah and are proud of the enterprising spirit of our state and nation’s first female voter, Seraph Young. At the time, Young cast her ballot in Salt Lake’s city election, she was only 23 and already an educator at the University of Deseret’s model school for young pupils. While many aspects of Young’s life were ordinary to the time, she exemplified what it means to show up to vote on that day long ago. She broke down barriers and her legacy lives on.
Another example of bold leadership today is Kamea Johnson, founder and owner of Chosen Creative. Johnson started the stationery company which sells cards, wall art, vintage paper products, custom wedding invitations, business logos, and various notepads. She uses bold typography and unique images to create charming designs that inspire creativity in all of us.
While Johnson was recognized as the 2019 Women’s Business Center of Utah Entrepreneur of the Year, it was not all smooth sailing from the start. If her story sounds similar to other startups, one of setbacks and mistakes, that’s because it is. Ultimately, she used those lessons to lead her to success. Upon receiving the award she said, “I can only hope to inspire other women to never give up on their dreams and reach for the impossible every chance they get.”
Women are increasingly entering the tech workspace and climbing the ladder of leadership. Bahar Ferguson, a former attorney and now president of Wasatch IT, sees an IT awakening due to the coronavirus. While the shift in demand can be attributed to teleworking, it has also increased IT support needs overall. IT in healthcare is booming as well, as frontline testing combats a deluge of data.
Many of these technical workers never thought they would be on the frontlines of public health but Ferguson says they are responding positively and taking the risks with a smile to serve the community. Despite a slowdown in new projects, current customers are relying on small businesses. The IT business will remain essential but Bahar’s ability to lead through crisis with a positive attitude, and a love of serving the community, cannot be replaced.
Lastly, Lavanya Mahate, one of Utah’s most prominent restauranteurs, is an entrepreneur who inspires everyone she encounters. Mahate came to Utah from India 19 years ago, and worked for the Salt Lake Chamber helping women build their small businesses before she decided to start her own. In 2011, Mahate opened the first Saffron Valley Restaurant and has opened five restaurant locations since then. Since she believes in serving the community, her mindset is that her restaurant guests are part of her family.
During the height of the COVID-19 crisis, she launched a program called “Keep Calm and Curry On” to give free meals to essential service providers who still have to show up each day and care for others. Her generosity provided healthcare professionals and essential workers one thousand free meals in a week. The spirit of service and commitment to community embodied by Mahate is one to be shared and modeled.
I believe their stories of success can be your stories and their success provides an example for everyone to follow. Women entrepreneurs will shape our future, they are on the frontlines for many of the challenges in business and society. I hope we can spotlight them more and recognize the good leadership they demonstrate. Let’s encourage other women to start a business and help other female entrepreneurs to do the same because when they succeed, we all succeed.