By Andy Olin, contributor
⏰ 3-minute read
- Houston consistently ranks highly in lists of cities with the best startup ecosystems, and it’s also proving to be a great place for entrepreneurs who are women.
- However, many business owners in the area run into old challenges related to gender stereotypes, along with those of building a business in general.
- Three women’s candid Q&As about their startup journeys illustrate statistics about female founders, in the Houston area in particular.
In 1973, Ninfa “Mama” Laurenzo tried to save the floundering tortilla factory she owned in the East End of Houston by opening a taco stand. The tortilla factory failed but the side business flourished, and The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation became one of the most iconic restaurants in the state.
Mama Ninfa’s Tacos al Carbon — grilled skirt steak wrapped in a flour tortilla — are better known today as fajitas, and her restaurant is given credit for popularizing the dish in Houston, some say the nation.
The Bayou City has changed a lot in the years since Mama Ninfa launched herself as an enterprising restauranteur, but the immutable entrepreneurial spirit that fueled her ambition is the same driving the city’s female business owners today.
Along with top-10 rankings on lists of cities with the best startup ecosystems and the highest economic growth potential, Houston ranks highly among the nation’s large metros in terms of female-owned startups. According to a recent Seek Business Capital report, 26.6% (2,783) of the area’s startups are owned by women, while the national average is 24.5%.
The contingent of women-owned businesses in the United States is growing, and faster than its male counterpart.
In 2016, the total number of firms owned by women in the U.S. was about 1.1 million, a 23% increase from 2007. That’s compared to a 6.3% increase in male-owned firms between those years.
Female entrepreneurs have unique weeds to wade through, but those statistics show progress has been made. This isn’t to say women entrepreneurs in Texas don’t face the hurdles common to most every owner of a growing business. In fact, they continue to contend with built-in biases and sexist attitudes about their abilities in addition to the commonplace challenges of starting and running a successful company.
Grow Wire asked a few Houston-area entrepreneurs to share their stories of founding and growing a company, as well as obstacles they have and continue to deal with as business owners who identify as female, in particular.
“I have always felt like I have to dress more professionally and have an authoritative attitude to ensure respect as the owner, which usually means being more aggressive or overly harsh.”
-Annie Rupani, founder of Cacao & Cardamom
“The business is mine, but my husband and I work trade shows together. ... On more than one occasion, a potential customer says, 'I wanna talk to the boss man,' looking at my husband."
-Liz Butts, founder and CEO of Sprinkle Pop
The bottom line
These women’s stories prove that despite struggles both gender-based and not, growing a business as a female — and furthering a movement — is worth the effort.
As Rupani puts it, “Being taken seriously as a business owner has always been difficult. But female founders should stay strong on their path of entrepreneurship, not only to be successful in their endeavors but to help create opportunities for other women.”