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Owning it: Lessons from 6 women entrepreneurs

As a young teenager, Jennifer Lake helped her father with the classes he taught at Comprehensive Survival Arts, an Owings Mills-based martial arts studio that he founded in the 1970s. One day, he suggested she teach a beginner’s class. After finishing the class, Lake cried and told her dad she never wanted to teach again.

“He said ‘I want you to take a deep breath and reevaluate’,” she recalled. “ ‘Take the week in between, come up with a plan and think about how you could have run the class better and see what happens next week. If you still don’t like it, that can be the end but who knows?’ ”

Martial arts teaches adaptability and Lake decided she needed to adapt. She taught the class the next week and realized she had found her passion. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “It has been such an amazing journey.”

Last year, Lake became president of the company, which she has now been a part of for more than 25 years. Besides teaching, the job includes networking, mentoring, marketing, building websites and making DVDs for students.

“I feel like having my own business has allowed me to really grow in any direction that I want,” she said.

Other women considering entrepreneurship should look at the whole picture, she encouraged, invoking her martial arts background: “When you are earning a black belt, it’s not the end result, it is the journey,” she said. “It’s what you learn along the way. Really slow down. Take a deep breath. Look at the big picture and ask for help.”

Insight & inspiration

Patricia Larrabee

Patricia Larrabee

According to U.S. Census, by 2012 there were more than 530,000 businesses in Maryland and more than 209,000 were owned by women.

Patricia Larrabee worked for a commercial real estate firm near Washington, D.C. that wanted to expand past Montgomery County. Yet every time Larrabee brought in opportunities, they were declined and in 2004 she decided to start her own company.

Facility Logix in Burtonsville helps biotech companies and universities expand their lab and manufacturing facilities. With undergraduate and graduate degrees in the science field, Larrabee loves helping clients deliver products, technology and drugs that better lives.

Larrabee has been in business now for 13 years. But she admitted that it wasn’t until three years ago that she stopped worrying about securing that next client. “I stopped myself and said ‘You have been doing this for over 10 years now. You must be doing something right here,’” she said. “It is not to say that I don’t still worry, because I do have sleepless nights as projects come and go, but it is not anywhere near as constant a thing.”

Nearly 30 years ago, Terry Sherman Ralston founded Delmarva Trailer Sales and Rentals Inc. in Elkridge. Seeing a need for trailer units and containers, she bought one, sold it and put that money into buying more. Today, she has a fleet of over 1,500 units over the region. “When I ride down the road and see my units out in the field, it makes my heart do flip flops,” she said.

Ralston enjoys being able to mentor women contemplating a career in construction.

“They are shy about even putting their big toe in this type of industry, but if you can give them words of encouragement and lead by example and take the time to talk to them and listen to them” that helps, she said.

“You’ve got to have passion in what you do,” she said. “You just definitely have to have it in your heart. When you talk to people, you need to take that passion and verbalize it to (them).”

Career evolution

Cherissa Jackson

Cherissa Jackson

In 2014, Cherissa Jackson founded the Gaithersburg-based Jackson & Associates Legal Nurse Consultants to help attorneys with background medical research. A single mother to two college-aged daughters, Jackson wanted to create a legacy for them.

“I am the first business owner in my family,” she said. “I knew when I retired from the (U.S. Air Force) in 2013 that I wanted to do something with everything that I learned in the military and I thought being a business owner would be that next step.”

There are three pieces of advice that Jackson said she would pass on to women starting a business: Find a mentor to help navigate trouble spots, network with other business owners and sign up for continuing education opportunities.

Kate Nolan Bryden.

Kate Nolan Bryden.

One year before Jackson became a business owner, Kate Nolan Bryden opened the Towson-based AMK Partners, a development management firm focused on project execution. In March, she closed the firm to join MRP Industrial as their Vice President of development.

No longer an entrepreneur, Bryden believed her current opportunity would not have come about had she not owned her own business. MRP was a client of hers, so she saw how they looked at projects and represented the interests of their clients. Being a business owner also made her stand out within the market and to know the move “was not only a great fit but a great place for me to really expand the platform that I had been developing on a much larger scale,” she said.

Creating her future

Rebecca Hauser.

Rebecca Hauser.

Growing up, Rebecca Hauser remembers walking through the office of her father’s advertising company. An eclectic space, she recalls decorated walls and the early square box versions of the Apple/Macintosh computers.

“No one would be in there,” she said. “I would walk around and absorb the creative spirit.”

At the time, Hauser didn’t know what shape a business she would create but was determined to one day own her own company. Six years ago, she was traveling with her best friend to Chicago when they heard of a “Paint and Sip” event where folks would gather at a location to create a featured painting and drink their favorite adult beverages.

The two decided to bring the concept back to Baltimore and opened the Mount Washington-based Painted Palette in 2012. Corporate team-building sessions, birthday parties and a monthly family day are just some of the events they host.

Being your own boss can offer a number of benefits. Hauser said the opportunity has allowed her to build her business from scratch with both trying new things and taking risks. “You get to be the boss,” she said. “You get to decide how things will be created. The fun part for me is really the sky was the limit.”

Every month, Hauser is a part of brainstorming group with two other local business owners. They talk about success stories and pain points to get feedback and input from others not living and breathing their business.

One takeaway: Building a business that can sustain ebbs and flows. Everyone wants to be outside in the spring, so Hauser decided to host outdoor painting events. “It’s about taking a challenge and seeing how you can adapt and make it a positive out of it,” she said.