The economy is beyond slow. Budgets are strapped. And access to financing and credit has dried up.
Terrible timing to be chasing entrepreneurial dreams, right? Not at all. Female entrepreneurs from across the Carolinas converged on a networking event Tuesday with optimism and a focus on growing their businesses.
“I love waking up every morning and doing what I do,” said Schrendria Robinson, whose Columbia business advises nonprofits. If anything, the economy presents “more opportunities” for her as clients struggle to raise money and write grant proposals.
She was among the more than 400 female entrepreneurs who attended “Make Mine a Million $ Business,” hosted by American Express OPEN, which serves small business owners.
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In the Blake hotel ballroom, where every seat was taken and plenty of people were standing, 19 women gave three-minute elevator pitches about their businesses and why they deserved to be one of 10 winners.
The winners get an American Express credit card with a guaranteed line of at least $10,000 and up to $50,000, along with mentoring services from the company.
The crowd cheered the contestants, who in keeping with election-year spirit urged the audience and judges to vote for them and their company. Some suggested it was a vote for an economic turnaround or would protect U.S. jobs.
One of Charlotte's most well-known female entrepreneurs – magazine CEO Dee Dixon – was in the audience to support contestant Fabi Preslar of Matthews, who heads SPARK Publications.
“I find it very exciting and energizing,” said Dixon, of Pride Communications Inc. She was named 2006 Charlotte Business Woman of the Year by Queens University of Charlotte.
Other women, such as Deldena Graham of Charlotte, haven't started their businesses yet. Graham, a mortgage loan administrator, was in research and networking mode. She hopes to retire in 10 years and open an early child care center.
“I want to prepare for retirement – to have supplemental income to give me peace of mind, especially in the current environment,” she said. “You can't rely entirely on your 401(k) anymore. …I came here for motivation, a spark of hope.”
“My business is small now, but I'd like to bump it up and make it grow,” said Leesa Sluder of Mooresville, who recently started a business consulting firm, Triple Bottom Line Consulting, after a 25-year career in corporate finance. “I just believe if I behave professionally and have a valuable consulting service, the right opportunities will come up.”