Entrepreneurial Winning Women program participants sing its praises

While women are launching privately held new business ventures to nearly the same degree as men (46 percent), they start strongly but often fall short of their promise. Lack of capital and influential networks are often cited as primary reasons.

In response to that statistic, Ernst & Young LLC in 2008 decided to invest in a solution with an annual competition and leadership development program called Entrepreneurial Winning Women. This program identifies women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale up — and then helps them do it.

Originally offered in the U.S., the program had expanded into countries across the globe.

Here are just a few case studies on how companies founded by women have seen their success grow through the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program.

Leading to grow

Lisa Bair, founder and president of Hobart Group Holdings, sums up the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program as “an opportunity to become more sophisticated as an entrepreneur.”

While her business offering marketing and advertising services to pharmaceutical clients has seen revenues doubling from 2009 to 2010, she now believes that without her experience in the EWW program, her growth was about to flatten out.

“To be honest, before Entrepreneurial Winning Women, I was so involved in running the business on a day-to-day basis I hadn’t thought about its lifecycle beyond $20 million in annual revenue — and we have crossed that line,” she says.

Then she attended the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum in November 2010.

“I completely revised my business plan after the forum,” she says.

She saw that $20 million was too small a goal but that she could not progress much beyond that as a pure service business.

In order to reach $100 million in annual sales, she thought she would have to develop unique products that would allow pharmaceutical companies to use technologies such as the iPad to build their brands.

Bair put managing directors in place at the head of her marketing services businesses in New York and New Jersey and formed a third company devoted solely to product development.

“I am now 100 percent focused on a three- to five-year vision,” she explains. “That includes building out our expertise, the possible acquisition of complementary companies and investment capital to allow us to scale.”

Tell your story

Dawn Halfaker, founder and CEO of Halfaker & Associates, is unusual in that she had a public profile before she even founded her company. She was featured twice in The New York Times alone in 2005.

A former West Point basketball player, she was just 24 years old and the commander of a military police platoon in Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed her right arm. The arm had to be amputated at the shoulder, effectively ending her military career.

In order to continue serving her country, she founded Halfaker & Associates to offer security consulting to government clients. One of the satisfactions she received in building this growing business was being able to hire injured veterans who were also forced prematurely to leave military careers.

Like most first-time business owners, Halfaker had no public relations training. EWW taught her how to leverage the media opportunities that come her way.

“I learned how to take my situation — that of Dawn, the wounded veteran — and subtly and effectively shift focus in an interview so that my business is at the forefront of the press I get,” she says.

Halfaker is convinced her company has benefited and has seen an increase in traffic on the company’s website.

“Entrepreneurial Winning Women helps you come to the realization that nobody can sell your company like you can,” she says.

From scientists to CEOs

When they started their environmental services and project management business, AK Environmental, Amy Gonzales was a geologist and professional wetlands scientist, and Kelly Caldwell was a biologist reporting to her. Soon they had to develop the mindset that they are not just biologist and geologist, but CEOs.

This means resisting the temptation to take on a larger and larger workload in a fast-growing company. Before joining Entrepreneurial Winning Women, Caldwell and Gonzales began carving out time for themselves as executives by hiring someone to manage their growing inspection services business.

But the experience of Entrepreneurial Winning Women convinced them to make two more key hires: a controller to free Caldwell of the responsibility for overseeing accounting and an environmental program manager to free Gonzales from project-specific work.

Gonzales says stepping back has not always been easy, and she had to put her trust into the environmental program manager. The pair was fortunate in this hire, and found an industry veteran who was not only extremely capable but who could help them grow by bringing in new business.

Learn more about EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women program here