Cheryl Newton, 46, vividly recalls the time, just before 9/11, when designing high-end shoreline Connecticut houses had her on the partner track at the architectural firm where she worked. Married, she had a young, growing family. But something, Newton says, still wasn’t quite right.
“I have a meaningful career. A devoted husband. Two beautiful children. But I didn’t understand why I was so unhappy,” she said.
Newton long had plans to start her own design practice, so after taking some time to work part-time and focus on her young sons, she took the liberating step in 2010 — at the height of the Great Recession — to go into business for herself.
Newton is among a growing number of U.S. women aged 40 and older who have chosen to plunge into entrepreneurism, say experts. Driven by a need for self-fulfillment, economic necessity, enabling technology, and backed by a rising network of financial, business and social support, females generally are opening businesses alongside younger Millennials at rates much faster than males, research and surveys show.
Basam E. “Bas” Nabulsi is a Stamford intellectual-property partner at law firm McCarter & English LLC and a WBDC board member. Nabulsi says he’s seen firsthand the growing number of women entrepreneurs coming to him as clients.
“Many of these women have tremendous educations and may have been out of the workforce for a time,” he said.
Another spark for the rise of women-owned firms, Nabulsi says, is the growing embrace among large businesses and corporations of “best practices” that engage women and other minority entrepreneurs as suppliers and contractors. On Oct. 1, Connecticut widened its minority-contractor inclusion protocol to municipalities that collect state dollars for infrastructure improvements and other contracts.
Fueling the trend, too, are networking, mentoring and support groups and agencies like WBDC, the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), the Small Business Administration and state Department of Economic and Community Development, experts say.
Newton has found her success through several of those.