Owning It: Small Business

The happiest entrepreneurs in US amid a recession's long shadow

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American female entrepreneurs are a happy bunch, and among the most content and active compared to 24 other developed economies, according to a new global report released earlier Wednesday.

The data from Babson College, which focuses on entrepreneurship, also found more female entrepreneurs are growing ventures with intentions to create U.S. jobs. About 36 percent of women in 2013 wanted to grow their businesses by more than six employees in the next five years. That's up from 31 percent in 2012.

Last year, one out of every 10 U.S. women were starting or running a new business. "We're beating Asia and Europe," said Donna J. Kelley, associate professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, located outside Boston. She led the 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. report.

But just as the broader American economy is experiencing a rebound, pockets of weakness persist.

For both men and women, rates of businesses launched out of necessity—a group sometimes referred to as necessity entrepreneurship—are higher than before the 2008 recession, according to the report. This group starts their own businesses because they often cannot find other work. California had the highest rate of necessity-driven entrepreneurship last year with 28 percent, while Texas had half this proportion.

About 12 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs started their businesses out of necessity in 2008. That level rose to more than 28 percent in 2010, and then retreated to 21 percent where it remained in 2013.

On the flip side, there are plenty of American entrepreneurs who see a promising future, and are pursuing businesses based on perceived opportunities—sometimes referred to as opportunity-driven entrepreneurship.

'A mental game'

Start-up Cocomama Foods features ancient grains, such as quinoa, and is located in Boston, Massachusetts.
Source: Cocomama Foods

One of those opportunity-driven entrepreneurs is Sara Gragnolati.

The 36-year-old suffered food allergies as a child and had a life-long passion for natural foods. In May 2010, she took the plunge and launched Cocomama Foods, whose products feature ancient grains such as quinoa—a high protein food.

"It's not easy. This is a mental game," she said. "It's ups and downs," added Gragnolati, who works out of an accelerator start-up space in Boston that includes PayPal and about two dozen other upstarts.

Then about one-and-a-half years ago, years of molding a business plan and trying to get off the ground yielded a major milestone. She inked a deal to be featured on some big retail shelves including Whole Foods and Wegmans, a supermarket chain based near Rochester, New York. She recently hired her first full-time staffer.

"It's the milestones that keep you going," Gragnolati said. "I feel so lucky to do what I love, and to see my vision come to life. I've never been a 9-to-5 gal."

Babson's research echoes Gragnolati's experiences as an entrepreneur.

As ventures mature and payoffs kick in, happiness levels among women entrepreneurs surge among businesses established for more than 3.5 years.

Kelley said this feeling of contentment and sense of achievement is especially magnified for established female entrepreneurs. Beyond the flexibility of being your own boss, women thrive in being able to achieve goals. "There's such a sense of fulfillment in pursuing what they're passionate about," Kelley said. "It's like a running a marathon. There's such a sense of elation when you've really achieved your goals."

And whether you call it American ingenuity or can-do will, about 56 percent of Americans believe they have the capabilities to launch a business—the highest among developed nations, and a stable trend despite recent fluctuations in the economy.

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