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FSU Celebrates Women Entrepreneurs

Published March 13, 2015
Excerpts from Original Article By Barbara Ash with contributions from Kate Mueller
Laura Johnson

Laura Johnson

A burgeoning number of enterprising Florida State alumna—represents a national trend among women whose innovative ideas have filled unmet needs and been catalysts for launching thriving businesses. “The 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” commissioned by American Express OPEN, showed that start-up activity by women is on the rise, with the daily rate of new women-owned businesses up from 602 in 2011-12 to 1,288 in 2014.

Recognizing the value of entrepreneurs to the economy and individuals, Florida State in recent years has expanded its efforts to create a culture of entrepreneurship across campus and set its sights on being recognized nationwide as “The Entrepreneurial University.” The university can call on an impressive roster of successful entrepreneurial alumni to inspire and foster entrepreneurial thinking among students and to help see that success is tangible.

“Learning to think like an entrepreneur will help you in every aspect of your life,” said Sara Blakely, Spanx, Inc. creator and a 1993 communication studies graduate committed to fostering entrepreneurship among women. “And most importantly, you will be ready when your a-ha moment comes. Owning your own business means owning your future and gives you a tremendous opportunity to help others.”

Blakely is a famous example of someone who recognized a need (an unflattering line under her white slacks) and invented a product, one that in her case, sparked a multimillion dollar revolution in women’s undergarments. Started in 1998, the company today is valued at more than a billion dollars, with annual revenues of $250 million, and earned Blakely a spot on Forbes’s list of the World’s Most Powerful Female Entrepreneurs of 2014.

Countless other Florida State alumnae, who majored in everything from marketing and education to studio art and fashion design, also have recognized opportunities and made the most of them. Some entered their fields decades ago, others are in the mid- to nascent-stages of business ownership such as Laura Johnson, who earned her degree in studio art in 1984, launched Coton Colors in Tallahassee in 1995 and whose Tapers & Toppers ceramic designs made it onto Oprah’s 2015 Favorite Things list featured in the March issue of “O.”

“There are lots of reasons women make great entrepreneurs,” said Susan Fiorito, chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Information Systems, Jim Moran Professor and an entrepreneur-in-residence in the College of Business. “If we look at the characteristics that make great entrepreneurs in general, most people would list: innovative, hardworking, passionate for the idea, persevering, ability to reshape an idea, understanding customer needs and caring deeply. Many of these characteristics are typical of women, who are often the caregivers — they care for their families, nurture them, protect them and are often selfless in the process. Entrepreneurs are like this with their ideas.”

For others, entrepreneurship is the next logical career move. Jan Greenwood, whose expertise is in education, spent many years in a large executive search firm. In a corporate setting, she found it difficult to focus on higher education because the fees aren’t as substantial as those collected from Fortune 500 companies. After planning for several years, Greenwood and her business partner founded Greenwood/Asher & Associates, Inc. in 2004.

By expanding the study of entrepreneurial practices across disciplines, Florida State gives every student, regardless of their field of study, the opportunity to learn fundamental business practices and enhance their career potential. The end goal is a culture change that promotes the transition from invention and creativity to the marketplace and encourages budding entrepreneurs to think big, take risks and enjoy the rewards of business ownership.

Entrepreneurs can point to numerous reasons for choosing the path they did. But when it comes down to it, many, say they love the freedom to do what they love doing the way they want to do it and being in control of their professional destiny.

“I like not being subjected to obstructions or restrictions and can take Coton Colors to where I want it to go,” said Laura Johnson, whose retail/wholesale company now employs 50 employees and whose market extends across the country to more than 3,000 retailers and is on Inc. magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing businesses three years in a row. “I like being able to surround myself with creative people I can depend on and want to see the business succeed. The best part is getting to do something I love every day.”