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Baltimore entrepreneur hoping to nail it

Ten years after mixing her first batch of cuticle oil, Christine Calhoun is taking her business to the big city to compete in a nationwide program for women business entrepreneurs.

“I’m hoping that I can get into their business incubator and expansion program and really work with them on doing the marketing and possibly get investors to get the products into mass retailers,” said Calhoun, 42, owner of Baltimore-based CC Nails and Cosmetics LLC, which sells four types of cuticle oil and 43 colors of nail polish, include 22 that are vegan-friendly.

She will be one of an expected 250 women at the Make Mine a Million Competition and Homecoming next week at Barnard College in New York.

The competition takes place July 30 and 31 and is run by Count Me In For Women’s Economic Independence Inc., a New York City-based nonprofit that helps women grow their businesses.

The women will compete in a two-minute business pitch contest for a chance at $1,000 and one of 75 pitch-winner consulting and media services prizes. The winners of the first round are eligible for one of 50 spots in the Count Me In Business Accelerator, a six-month program designed to help women grown their businesses to $1 million in revenue within two years.

“Most women business owners are ‘solo-preneurs,’ so they’re working by themselves and they’re doing everything else, so it’s very easy to feel like there’s no one to talk to, no one to relate to. … It’s just nice to know there are other women who have some of the same challenges who can offer you insight and advice,” said Heather Mangrum, spokeswoman for Count Me In.

The Make Mine a Million competition is sponsored by American Express OPEN and has been around since 2005. Nearly 300 female entrepreneurs have completed the Count Me In Business Accelerator program, including five from Maryland, Mangrum said.

Over the last 15 years, the number of women-owned business in Maryland has jumped more than 68 percent, to an estimated 194,900 in 2012 from 115,801 in 1997, based on the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN.

“The reality is there are different dynamics that exist for men versus women, and why not have successful women business leaders mentor and nurture emerging women entrepreneurs to better navigate some of those challenges?” said Darlene Brannigan Smith, dean of the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business.

Studies have shown that women have unique challenges when it comes to access to capital and willingness to advance their businesses, she said.

For Calhoun, who works as a contracting officer for the Library of Congress, her small business has yet to become a source of income. In the meantime, she’s continuing to promote her product at award shows. Glow Wellness Spa on East 28th Street has also started carrying CC Nails.

The Washington, D.C., native, who moved to Baltimore in 2006, said the business, which she started with $35 and some essential oil samples, is a dream she’s continuing to work for.

“I’m just keeping on until I get that phone call,” said Calhoun, whose resume is as colorful as her polishes.

She holds an undergraduate degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland, College Park, a graduate degree in management from University of Maryland University College, and an associate degree in fashion buying and merchandising from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

She got her start in the nail industry more than 15 years ago as a licensed nail technician.

“The good thing about being in the cosmetics industry,” Calhoun said, “is that women will spend their last couple of dollars on cosmetics.”