Gender trending

Women like Stephanie Wooster are starting new businesses at an incredible pace. That’s why the Marathon County Economic Development Corp. launched its newest initiative for local entrepreneurs


Vicki Resech noticed something peculiar last year during the course of awarding gap financing to new businesses through the Marathon County Economic Development Corp.: Most of the people asking for help to start a business were women. Resech took a careful look at the numbers and was surprised to see they made up 75% of the inquiries to MCDEVCO.

At first, she wondered if this was a fluke or maybe isolated to central Wisconsin. But then Resech, director of operations for the agency that works with local governments, businesses and the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce, looked at the national data. Turns out Marathon County was not an outlier, but the norm. The rate of women-owned startups is skyrocketing, but, according to the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC), they start with nearly half as much capital as men—$75,000 compared to $135,000.

Not only were more women than men contacting the agency for loans and resources, Resech also noticed many of these women lacked some of the basic know-how she would expect from aspiring business owners. Many didn’t have any business background, had no accounting skills, didn’t know how to form a business plan, or didn’t understand how to market their company.

In short, there has been a noticeable knowledge gap in the rising number of women interested in starting their own business.

So Resech started searching for solutions and created Women Mentoring Women Entrepreneurs, a MCDEVCO-sponsored program starting in January. MCDEVCO will bring in some of its loan clients to lead presentations and provide guidance for would-be and current women entrepreneurs. Resech hopes that a female business owner—one who’s already successful—in a room of hopeful or current entrepreneurs will draw a stronger response and in the end have more impact.

“Giving (women) their own group is important. If men want to come in, that’s fine, because we don’t exclude them, but we don’t want them to overtake it,” Resech says. “You hate to be cliché and say they communicate better with each other, but women have different needs. They have families, their own jobs, and their own lives to live, and talking with someone who relates to them—a business owner that is successful in their field—can help empower them.”

Women entrepreneurs have always been around, of course. But now the sheer number of hopefuls makes it even more important to address what can be gender-specific needs.

Women trying to break into the business world face different barriers than men, Resech explains. One is family, where many gender norms still play out. A 2016 analysis of research by the Office for National Statistics found women still are doing nearly 40% more of the household work than men, and men are still relied on as the primary source of income in heterosexual marriages.

Plus, there’s usually a male face to many of the resources a businesses needs. Men dominate the banking industry, for example. In addition to the very real possibility of an unconscious bias or heightened skepticism toward a female applicant, there are also very real gaps in communication or style.

A good example: Resech worked with one woman whose business plan was peppered with purple ink. “No man is going to take you seriously with your numbers in purple,” Resech says.

The lady boss at Wooster’s Garage 


Wooster says working with Resech at MCDEVCO to get her automotive business going was much easier than it would’ve been with a man, because Resech understood the nuances

Women are crushing it in the startup world. Despite more limited access to capital, 58% of women-owned businesses grew by 30% or more between 2008-2011, compared to 53% of male-owned businesses, according to the NWBC.

Not only are women-run businesses growing faster—with half of the startup money, remember—the total number of businesses they’re starting has grown. In the 40 economies that participated in a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey in both 2011 and 2016, female entrepreneurship rates rose by 13% on average, while male rates increased by 5%. Women are starting more than 1,000 new businesses per day in the U.S.—about 40% of all new businesses.

Growth has also been swift in recent years. From 2015 to 2016, women’s entrepreneurship rates increased by 10% on average versus 5% for males, across 51 economies that participated in the 2016 GEM survey.

Do all those stats apply to Marathon County? Well, sort of.

Resech doesn’t know exactly how many new businesses are being started by women in the county, but business ownership overall compared to men doesn’t come close. Women are still vastly underrepresented as owners in Marathon County.

“We’re once again falling behind. The Midwest is normally behind,” Resech says. “If women entrepreneurship is happening all over the U.S., we need for it to happen here.”

The tide might be turning though. Romey Wagner, Director of the Wausau Entrepreneurial Center, says 60% of the new businesses come through his doors in the past 18 months have been female- or minority-owned.

He has seen that women in general don’t have fewer skills than men to launch a business. But the crucial mentoring and resources are simply geared toward a more male mindset. These aspects should be different to help ensure more women find success.

“Nine times out of 10, women will respond better to advice when they’re being mentored by other women,” Wagner says.

Wagner has sent multiple women to MCDEVCO or elsewhere for various services to help start their businesses, and has found a shortage of assistance specifically for women in Marathon County.

Stephanie Wooster would agree. Wooster just merged her graphic design business with her new auto mechanic shop, Wooster’s Garage in Weston, and went to Resech for aid. “Vicki helped with everything I do. She’s irreplaceable,” Wooster says. “I didn’t know how to write a business plan and didn’t have experience with financials. She looked over what I had already done and gave me advice.”

Wooster has long wanted to be an auto mechanic, but when she first applied for a job years ago at an auto shop in the Wausau area, she was told by the owner to go fix lawnmowers because car engines would be too big. She says working with Resech to get her business going was much easier than it would’ve been with a man, because Resech understood the nuances. “She worked in a field that was highly male-dominated,” Wooster says of Resech.

Resech has an associate’s degree in architectural and residential design and was laughed out of her first-ever professional job interview in 1977 by a man who told her to “go home and have babies.”

For Wooster, Resech provided a comfort level. Wooster says she wasn’t made to feel stupid for not knowing all the details of setting up a business plan. “Working with someone like Vicki, she understands that for me to stand out in the auto mechanic industry, I have to dominate,” Wooster says. “We have to do better than everyone else in this business just to have a level playing field.”

Empowering women

Wagner works with a woman at the business incubator who immigrated to the U.S. and started a business recently. She had the basic skills necessary to be an entrepreneur, but didn’t understand tax laws, accounting practices, or legal issues. “I can direct (business owners) to people in a profession they need,” Wagner says. “I’m not an expert in anything but I’m the conduit to all the experts.”

Wagner and his facility can only do so much, which is where MCDEVCO is stepping in with the Women Mentoring Women Entrepreneurs program, and three upcoming sessions.

Sue Larson, co-owner of Lil’ Ole Winemaker Shoppe in downtown Wausau, will speak about learning from experience and what traps aspiring female entrepreneurs shouldn’t fall into. MY Produce co-owner Mary Thao experienced some of the issues many entrepreneurs face when she sought help from MCDEVCO to launch her business with husband Yeng earlier this year. She will speak about supplying a proof of concept and why it’s important. The final program March 8 will tackle the issues of insurance with Jessie Furrer from Spectrum Insurance. Many startup owners, both men and women, don’t quite understand what kind of insurance they need, Resech says.

Kelsy McCartney agrees that a little extra help for women could go a long way. Kelsy co-owns The McCartneys Photography with her husband Butch in downtown Wausau. They started their business nearly a decade ago, and looking back Kelsy wishes either she or Butch had a business background.

“We have all these things we want to do and if you can have that creative side but also know business that makes a huge difference from the get-go so you can start out strong with your finances,” Kelsy says. “That’s the piece a lot of creative people are missing. If you can have a business mind along with your creative passion, that would make a huge difference.”

Kelsy launched Empower + Create in February 2017 with fellow small business owners Heidi Nowitzke and Kasey Greenheck. They meet every month with other Wausau area female business owners to provide support to one another and discuss aspects of work life.

Some attendees have taken their businesses full-time after attending Empower + Create meetings. Greenheck says that type of reaction might not be possible if the people in the room weren’t all women. “I think there’s a little less ego involved when it’s all women in the room.”

But healthy competition is at the heart of what MCDEVCO is trying to get at. It’s not about subtracting men with MCDEVCO programs, Resech says. It’s about filling an observed gap in the aid provided to female entrepreneurs, to step in and give them equal opportunity.

“Services and products that are available for women in Marathon County are lacking,” Resech says. “We don’t have the mentoring, the training or the loan base they need to succeed and feel like they can go into business for themselves.”

You better watch out, though. “Women are a force to be reckoned with,” Resech says.

Upcoming programs

Women Mentoring Women Entrepreneurs

MCDEVCO will hold three presentations to help local aspiring or current female business owners with various aspects of their businesses. All programs are free.

Jan. 18 — Sue Larson, co-owner of Lil’ Ole Winemaker Shoppe will speak about learning from experience. 6-8 pm, Lil’ Ole Winemaker Shoppe on Sixth Street.

Feb. 6 — Having a proof of concept to get your business up and running is important, and MY Produce co-owner Mary Thao will present on that subject 6-8 pm. Third Street Lifestyle Center (Washington Square), downtown Wausau, in the second floor conference room (#214A).

March 8 — You will also need to know what kind of insurance you need for your business, and Jessie Furrer with Spectrum Insurance will help sort out the confusion with insurance. 5:30-7:30 pm. Third Street Lifestyle Center (Washington Square), downtown Wausau, in the second floor conference room (#214A).

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Heidi Nowitzke, Kasey Greenheck and Kelsy McCartney started the monthly Empower + Create meetings in February 2017 for local women in business. Around 90 different women have attended, with some taking their businesses full-time after attending.

Empower + Create 

This group, created by local business owners Kasey Greenheck, Kelsy McCartney and Heidi Nowitzke, has met monthly since February 2017. Meeting at City Grill on the first Wednesday of each month at 6 pm, Empower + Create provides an avenue for female entrepreneurs to meet and support each other. Nowitzke estimates 90 different women have come to their meetings, which include a half-hour social and then discussion on work-related topics or a presentation from a local female business owner. A requested minimum $10 donation at the door, or online at

Work-Life Balance: Is it an Option for Mothers?

This program hosted by the YWCA Wausau on Jan. 16 and presented by the Wisconsin Humanities Council in partnership with MCDEVCO, will feature Jessie Garcia, Wisconsin’s first female television sports anchor. Garcia broke into the industry in 1994 with WTMJ-TV, is an award-winning journalist and has been a Green Bay Packers sideline reporter for the last seven years. Her presentation will focus on juggling career aspirations and being a mother and a spouse. Expect a lot of audience participation and a long Q&A session. 6 pm. Free.