Women entrepreneurship rising

NEW WINDSOR — The wearing grind of a daily commute between Middletown and Rockefeller Center in Manhattan got Stephanie Falsetta to thinking about starting her own business.
It was 2014 when Falsetta tossed her career as a paralegal at Christie’s New York and the near-four hour round trip it entailed, to launch a soap and lotions company, Goats in a Coat. Though she had her doubts, the encouragement of her husband, Michael, and her mother, Marianne Markey, won out.
“I never thought I’d have a soap company,” Falsetta, a mother of three children, said at The Accelerator, Orange County’s entrepreneur incubator. “I figured I’d retire from Christie’s … But my mom told me to follow my bliss.”
Clients of The Accelerator such as Falsetta, 41, reflect a state and national trend of more women embarking on businesses of their own.
Six of the nine businesses housed in The Accelerator building are women-owned. And roughly half of the 31 outside businesses it advises are owned and run by women, said Vincent Cozzolino, a partner of the Galileo Technology Group, which manages the incubator.
Just a year ago, before last autumn’s launch of the outside advisory section, The Accelerator Without Walls, about 75 percent of the entrepreneurs were men, said Laurie Villasuso, chief operating officer of the Orange County Industrial Development Agency, which oversees The Accelerator.
“It emerged for us in the fall of last year,” Villasuso said. “That’s when we began noticing the trend.”

Growing numbers
New York state has about 782,000 women-owned firms, up 32 percent from 594,000 in 2007, according to the sixth annual State of Women Owned Businesses Report by American Express OPEN, a provider of small-business payment cards.
The number has increased more than 45 percent nationally, to 11.3 million this year from about 7.8 million in 2007, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey of small businesses.

Reasons range from more women having college degrees to workplace opportunities that gave them managerial skills and a network of professional contacts, said Julie Weeks, research adviser for American Express OPEN.

Weeks also cited a growing number of supportive public-sector agencies, like The Accelerator, as well as government procurement programs that emphasize contracting with women- and minority-owned businesses.

“This trend will certainly continue,” Weeks said via email, “and may in fact be increasing, driven by the growth of women of color launching new businesses.”

Company on the cusp
One of those women of color, Sandy Bastien of New Windsor, came in January to The Accelerator, which offers below-market rent and shared office equipment, as well as networking and advisory opportunities.

She was already running an artificial flower business for beach and distant destination weddings, when experiences close to home sparked an interest in starting a baby products company called BaBa.

Bastien has two children and expects a third in October. She’s in the process of developing a prototype of a baby bottle that converts into a sippy cup, as well as bottles that won’t lose their caps.

“I’d like to have my baby using the bottle,” Bastien said with a smile.
Like Falsetta, Bastien credits family support for her entrepreneurial courage.

“My husband, Pierre, is my biggest supporter,” she said. “Even when things aren’t
too promising, he encourages me.”

Expanding production
Falsetta and Cindy Allyn, also a client of The Accelerator, will begin packaging lotions and soaps in September in a building The Accelerator leases from the Town of New Windsor at Stewart International Airport. Government grants, which earlier paid for sewing equipment for another business, will be tapped for bottling equipment.

“We’ll each have our own manufacturing space,” said Allyn, 50, who opened her Mother Earth’s Bath, Body & Spa in Pine Island in 2006. “There will be four of us in the building and we’ll all be making things of a soap and cosmetic nature. We have common goals with different products.”

The space and equipment will allow Falsetta to increase production beyond the local market. She now sells soaps, lotions and soy candles at her store, Scents of the Valley, which opened in October in the Village of Montgomery. They’re also stocked at farm stands and the alumni gift shop at West Point.

Allyn, who has two grown children, is also a massage therapist. She decided to make her own lotions after becoming allergic to commercially prepared ones used in her business. She expects her new company, Farmbody, to have products on the market by December.

“There are huge possibilities,” Allyn said. “There are a lot of countries hungry for American hand-crafted products.”

The women gave myriad reasons why they and others have their own companies. They see men willing these days to take on more childcare responsibilities, giving mothers the time they need. They also say women don’t want to be chained to a corporate time clock. They want more control over their time.

Allyn sees her mission as more than just increasing her income.

“It’s not my desire to be a one-woman show,” Allyn said. “I want to teach others the craft, give them the flexibility they need, and get out there and market it so I can provide more jobs.”

Original Article appeared in the Times Herald-Record on 6/5 and can be viewed here with photos.