Women open own doors to business

Many are leaving a steady paycheck and following their hearts and heads into ventures they control.

Published February 3, 2007

Denise Moore unlocked the door, strolled inside and glanced at the quiet, darkened construction scene of concrete, dirt and piping. The former TV traffic reporter hopes the empty shopping plaza store site near Westchase will be an attractive 2,236-square-foot toy business stocked with kids' goodies in two months.

After ditching her TV news career, the 32-year-old Moore is plowing $250,000 to $300,000 into a Learning Express Toys franchise and making a business leap of faith along her new career path. Moore decided to start her business after her TV station, WFLA-Channel 8, picked a new traffic reporting service last year. She spent a decade in the TV news business.

"As much as I liked being a TV reporter, I always knew that I wanted more. I could have continued in the news business, but I didn't want to do it any more," said Moore, a Brandon mother of a 2 1/2-year-old daughter. "I always had the itch to do more than (TV reporting). I had the desire to be my own boss."

Those words resonate with Shrimatee Ojah-Maharaj, assistant director of Midtown Economic Development in St. Petersburg and manager of the St. Petersburg Business Assistance Center.

Ojah-Maharaj said some women seek to open small businesses to fulfill goals that could not be realized in the corporate world and to gain autonomy over their work.

She cited two women who moved to St. Petersburg to open a Caribbean art business after toiling in the computer software business in the northern part of the country.

"They were burned out," Ojah-Maharaj said. "The fulfillment of their business is to follow their personal philosophies. They have the passion."

The increased freedom of a new business for women also means more flexibility to take care of their kids, said Eileen Rodriguez, associate director of the Small Business Development Center at USF in Tampa.

"From the women's standpoint, they need the flex time. That's something corporate American is not good at," Rodriguez said. "One of the biggest issues women are facing is flexibility."

While Moore is opening her new business with a partner, her friend, Lisa Hopen of Palm Harbor, Donna Blackwell flew solo when she debuted her Carrollwood massage therapy business last autumn after leaving a stable paycheck at a software marketing job.

Last July, Blackwell left SCC Soft Computer in Palm Harbor and took five months to get the state Health Department permit and find the space before opening her 1,000-square-foot office off Ehrlich Road in November.

It took about $20,000 to launch her small business, BodyMoves Plus, which includes three massage therapists working on an independent contracting basis.

There was no one single reason for getting out of the computer software business, Blackwell said. The biggest factors: lack of job satisfaction, an opportunity to be close to home with her two teenage daughters without the 45-minute commute and "a chance to prove something on my own," Blackwell said.

"I spent 10, 15 years commuting to work and having a foot in the local community is kinda nice," said Blackwell, 47, who lives only 2 miles from her office.

Blackwell is the first to admit the experience of leaving a steady paycheck for the chance of running her own gig is all a little scary.

"There truly is so much fear. I confront fear on a daily basis," Blackwell said.

Rodriguez said that's not unusual.

"It's difficult and hard to go from a stable paycheck with benefits to uncertainty," Rodriguez said. "Unfortunately women, if they don't have a spouse or life partner who can support them while they're beginning their businesses or offer benefits, will face a major issue. That's a real crunch."

The good part is that women who worked in the corporate workplace before opening their own small business can usually apply their skills and experience from the company setting to their own new entrepreneurial operations, said Ojah-Maharaj.

But even with the financial stress of her new business, Blackwell understood she needed to make the move.

"Even if I go back to the corporate life, it's a restlessness I would have faced," she said. "Sometimes, you need to try something and it settles things inside you."

To avoid her financial panic attacks, Moore did her homework on a franchise store that will be the fifth Learning Express Toys store in the Tampa Bay area market. There are 114 such stores nationwide. Moore's store sign just went up the other day.

"You have to make sure you do your research. I talked with past and current Learning Express owners," Moore said.

She's confident the store, scheduled to open March 28, will make it. "It was for personal happiness. I was tired of the stress and the competition. I just didn't want to deal with it any more."