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Program targets female entrepreneurs

by Emilie Eastman

Staff Writer

As the female president and CEO of her own business, Sonya Hopson is in the minority in the state of Maryland. But as a Bowie resident, she is not alone.

Bowie has about 10 percent more women-owned businesses than the state average and six percent more than the Prince George’s County average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and a new collaboration between the Bowie Business Innovation Center and the Maryland Women’s Business Center aims to keep that number growing.

The Women’s Business Center made its first expansion into Prince George’s County this year in partnership with the Bowie BIC, and has been holding free or low-cost networking and training sessions each month for local female entrepreneurs, said program manager Angie Duncanson.

“This is a new program, it’s new to Prince George’s County,” she said. “The response has been overwhelming. As soon as I started this program here, people came out of the woodwork.”

Hopson runs Sage Services Group, LLC., a Bowie-based company that provides training for offenders re-entering the workforce, and said there are particular challenges that face female business owners.

“Sometimes the more assertive you are as a woman, you’re often pegged as aggressive,” she said. “And I believe there is still a barrier of access to capital.”

Hopson, who won the Bowie Chamber of Commerce’s Incubator Business of the Year award in May, said she attended several of the WBC training sessions and found the networking to be a valuable asset.

“Whenever you’re around other business people you can hear about ideas and lessons learned,” she said. “These sessions and activities give you an inspiration. You may be a small business today, but you can become a corporation.”

Bowie BIC director Lisa Smith said that around 44 percent of Bowie-area business owners are women, yet they are sometimes unaware of the resources available to help grow their businesses, such as networking groups and legal aid.

“[Women] are starting businesses faster than men, but they’re not growing them,” she said. “What we’re finding is that there is a lack of understanding of what the resources are for them.”

Briana Logan of Washington, D.C., owns District-based information technology consulting firm Logan Networks and said she attends the WBC training sessions to learn about practical methods for developing her company.

“When you’re first starting out, these sessions are helpful so that you can get a foundational knowledge. I know there’s a lot I need to know,” she said. “I work in a male-dominated environment. So you always have to be able to do the same things but have a different strategy.”

Duncanson said sometimes one of the biggest challenges for female entrepreneurs is expanding their businesses beyond home-based one-woman-shows.

“If they remain [at home], they are still thinking like sole proprietors,” she said. “The mission is trying to get women to think differently — we’ve got to get them to start thinking like CEOs and presidents.”

eeastman@gazette.net