“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
“I think that women have a unique ability to understand things in a more three-dimensional way. I think we understand things in stories and we build things via community,” says Karyn Schwartz, owner of Sugarpill Apothecary on Pine Street. Schwartz is one of the founding members of Capitol Hill Entrepreneurial Women (CHEW), a business organization that represents millions of dollars of annual commerce in the neighborhood. CHEW helps female owners of small businesses share their experience and expertise while building lasting connections and a network of support.
Seattle is an increasingly friendly environment for women entrepreneurs and has a high density of small businesses in general. According to figures by the U.S. Census Bureau and the City of Seattle, there is roughly one business in this city for every ten residents. More than half of all businesses in Washington are owned solely by women or in equal male-and-female partnerships, even more so in Seattle, far outstripping other states and metropolitan areas. Only San Francisco rates higher than Seattle in these regards. This trend toward majority representation for women in business in this city has been steady for decades, exploding in the past ten years.
CHEW started in 2011 when several members of the Capitol Hill business community reached out to Schwartz just as Sugarpill was opening its doors. Sitting at the front of the store in an alcove now home to a serene art installation, Schwartz, Laura Culberg of Sweatbox Yoga, and several other women business owners in the neighborhood had their first, informal meeting about the ups and downs of modern entrepreneurship.
As Schwartz tells it, “We were all sitting in this little room talking and we thought, ‘Oh, there’s something here. We should get together more often. We should reach out to each other. We should help each other. There are so many things we can do together.’”
Today there are 46 member businesses on CHEW’s roster, running the gamut from food and drink, to health and wellness, retail, and professional services. Many other non-members have attended the organization’s events over the past 18 months and CHEW continues to grow along with Capitol Hill’s business community.
Women still face a number of particular challenges as entrepreneurs, both experientially and in raw numbers.
“Even though it’s the year 2013, there are still ideas that people have about how women can’t do things; they can’t achieve for themselves, they aren’t financially independent, they aren’t ‘this’ enough or ‘that’ enough,” Schwartz says. “People talk to us differently. Landlords talk to us differently, electricians, people from the city. I would say, unfortunately, we’re still not given the benefit of the doubt.”
There are also recorded disparities in the way women and men approach their businesses today that change the way their ventures grow. Recent data from the Survey of Business Owners suggests that women entrepreneurs tend to start their businesses with less overall money and take on less debt to increase their business than men do. This, combined with the fact that they tend to be in fields that generate smaller sales, means that women-owned businesses are generally lower risk but less likely to see major jumps in revenue.
The women of CHEW have decided that community support is a better pathway to success than
trying to out-sell one’s neighbors.
“Rather than be in competition with each other, even for those of us who do similar things, if we help each other succeed then everybody is a more successful,” Schwartz explains. “If my business succeeds, there’s more going on on this street and your business is going to succeed. If the Century Ballroom succeeds, then all the people who go there see my business on their way to go dancing.”
To this end, CHEW develops promotional events among its member businesses for the sake of cross-promotion, as well as holding free panel discussions on vital business topics. One of their most recent events brought together a collection of new media professionals to educate current and aspiring business-owners about how to develop a brand and interact with customers via social media platforms.
CHEW is gearing up for new events over the next few months, including new panels discussions and Happy Hour networking opportunities. Details will be available on the CHEW website and Facebook page as they are finalized.