Expert Forum: 5 Prevailing Themes in the Journey of Women Entrepreneurs

Study of Successful Women Entrepreneurs Finds a Focus on People, Resiliency and Optimism

By: Kevin Murphy, Bank of America Buffalo Market President

A growing number of companies founded and led by women has fueled interest in how women approach entrepreneurism and what it means for a rising generation of female entrepreneurs. Bank of America’s Private Wealth Management organization, U.S. Trust, recently published “Women’s Entrepreneurial Journey: Profiles of leadership in an era of new opportunities,” a new paper that shares the personal stories of eight women entrepreneurs and points to five common themes that characterize their entrepreneurial journeys.

Today, women are starting and growing their own businesses at record rates, with studies on U.S. entrepreneurship finding that women own an estimated 11.6 million businesses, employ nearly 9 million people, and generate more than $1.7 trillion in annual revenues. 1 The goal of this paper was to uncover the journey of successful women business owners, their impact on society and the factors contributing to their success.

The paper is based on interviews with eight women at different stages of their personal and professional lives. Six began their careers as legislative, educational and societal changes in the 1960s and 1970s were offering women new opportunities in the business world. Also profiled are two millennial women who founded companies in a decade when far more women are economically empowered, though they still experience challenges.

No two women followed the same path, but their collective careers offer important insights that connect to five common themes:

  • People and culture: The women entrepreneurs profiled focused on people – employees, vendors and customers – as much as on the business itself. They tried to create company cultures that helped people reach their full potential.
  • Education, experience and a little luck: Many think entrepreneurship starts with a business idea, but there is more to it than that. The women entrepreneurs profiled earned degrees and gained business experience that helped them identify a societal or cultural shift, gap or unfilled need that, in turn, guided their business model.
  • Access to capital: A key theme that emerged for all was the importance of accessing capital. Only two of the women profiled sought equity investors. Six self-funded their businesses, wanting to keep their autonomy and maintain their people-focused culture.
  • Resiliency and optimism: The women interviewed showed that launching a company requires both optimism and resilience. They all faced and overcame adversity, but were similarly hard-wired with an understanding that setbacks were just part of the journey.
  • The importance of women’s leadership: All of the women profiled who started their careers in the 1970s said that having had more female colleagues would have made their paths to success less arduous. Consequently, all of them support younger women, both in business and in their communities.

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The women profiled in “Women’s Entrepreneurial Journey” each took one of four journeys to success:Bank of America

  • Founded and sold a business: Maxine Clark, founder and former Chief Executive Bear of Build-A-Bear Workshop; Suzanne Weinstein, founder and former CEO of Coastal Seafoods; Carol Levins, founder and former CEO of Creative Kids Learning Center
  • Inherited or bought a company: Cindy Ayloush, CEO and CFO of Hydraflow Corporation; Lissa Wong, CEO of Casters, Wheels and Industrial Handling Inc.
  • Founded, and still owns, a business: Janice Bryant Howroyd, founder, chair and CEO of The ActOne Group
  • Rising generation of entrepreneurs: Kelly Gasink, co-founder of Austin Cocktails; and Megan Driscoll, founder and CEO of EvolveMKD

Our company recognizes the important role that women entrepreneurs play in the growth of the U.S. economy, and we are committed to providing support that will help promote continued success. For example, the bank has provided $50 million in funding for women entrepreneurs through its involvement with the Tory Burch Capital Program, and has recently launched the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell University.  Additionally, through the bank’s partnership with nonprofit organizations like Vital Voices Global Partnership and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Bank of America employees have mentored nearly 2,000 women entrepreneurs from over 80 countries. These programs help enhance and develop the business acumen and leadership skills that business owners need to realize their economic potential.

Through the combined resources of Bank of America and U.S. Trust, the firm offers advice and guidance to businesses at every stage in areas such as expansion financing, business planning, risk management, employee benefits, mergers and acquisitions and more.

“Women’s Entrepreneurial Journey: Profiles of leadership in an era of new opportunities” is available at


1 Source: The 2017 State of Women-Owned Business Report: A Summary of Key Trends, American Express OPEN, November 17

U.S. Trust is part of the Global Wealth and Investment Management unit of Bank of America Corporation, which is a global leader in wealth management, private banking and retail brokerage. U.S. Trust employs more than 4,000 professionals and maintains 93 offices in 31 states. As part of Bank of America, U.S. Trust can provide access to a broad range of banking solutions for individuals and businesses, and an extensive retail banking platform.

U.S. Trust operates through Bank of America, N.A., and other subsidiaries of Bank of America Corporation. Bank of America, N.A., Member FDIC.

© 2018 Bank of America Corporation.

Disclaimer: The above commentary entails the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.