Women are starting companies at a faster rate than men, as they have been for years. But you know who's really rocking it? Women of color.

At least that's what preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in its Survey of Business Owners, shows. In 2012, women owned about 9.9 million U.S. businesses, or about 36.2 percent of the total. That's a 27.5 percent rate of growth since 2007, the last time the Survey of Business Owners was released. Among employer firms--those that employ at least one other person besides the founder--the number of women-owned firms grew 19.5 percent, while the number of firms owned by men grew 11.5 percent.

A closer look shows that black, Hispanic, and Asian women are driving the impressive numbers among women. Overall, the number of businesses owned by women of color jumped by 42 percent between 2007 and 2012. In 2012, women of color owned 3.8 million businesses; in 2007, they owned about 2.2 million businesses.

Hispanic women seem to be making the most progress, with the number of Hispanic-owned businesses  jumping 87.3 percent since 2007. Black women are also making great strides, and are unique in that they actually own more businesses than black men--about 59 percent of the total number of black-owned businesses. From 2007 to 2012, the number of businesses owned by black women increased 67.5 percent. And Asian-American women increased the number of businesses they own by 38.7 percent.

It's not clear why women of color are starting businesses at such stellar rates. But a number of these entrepreneurs point to family backgrounds in which immigration played a huge role in developing their families' values. "I think that mindset of resourcefulness comes from an immigrant mentality," says Shilpa Shah. She's the co-founder of Cuyana, a 30-person online retailer of women's essentials. Her father was born in Uganda; her mother in India. "No one's going to make it easy for you. If you see an opportunity, you seize it and take advantage of it."

Cristina Ros Blankfein's grandparents came to the U.S. from Cuba during the revolution, when Ros Blankfein's parents were still children. "My grandparents left behind anything material that they had," says Ros Blankfein, now the co-founder of Be Mixed, a natural and zero-calorie cocktail mixer. "They said we came with our family and values intact, we can start from scratch and create anything we want. The narrative in our household was all about the incredible value of hard work."

Tanya Menendez's parents came to the U.S. from El Salvador and Nicaragua when they were just teenagers. Menendez, co-founder of the online platform for American manufacturers Maker's Row, says their mindset, of "always wanting to be better and constantly improve," rubbed off on her, too. But she says there’s another way in which being the child of immigrants has affected her as an entrepreneur: "You build tougher skin when you come here from another country."

Menendez also suspects that as it becomes cheaper and easier to go from idea to startup, we’ll see a variety of people who may not have considered entrepreneurship start to embrace it. "I know this because every time we throw an event [for the entrepreneurs who use Maker's Row], our events are very diverse," she says. "Just think about the barriers to entry of entrepreneurship being lower, what happens then?" she asks.

Carla Harris, chair of the National Women's Business Council, suggests that women of color may have been more likely to have been laid off during the beginning of the great recession, and so may have been more likely to need entrepreneurship as an alternative way to make a living. She also says that Millennials and Generation Xers, as a group, may have more appetite for entrepreneurship, and that those two groups are "a large part of the growing demographic for women of color."

Lizzy Okoro Davidson, the founder of Bunch, a magazine highlighting stories of creative professionals, says she's seen Harris's comments about Millennials reflected in her own social and business circles. "Most of the people I know at this point are very entrepreneurial," she says. "There is this move toward wanting to own your work and wanting to own your future."

Okoro Davidson's father came to the U.S. from Nigeria, and ended up being her mentor as an entrepreneur. "He had only one actual job when he came to the U.S., as a UPS driver," she says. "Other than that, he only worked for himself."

 

Published on: Aug 27, 2015