A recent study commissioned by American Express Open found that the number of women-owned businesses in Florida has increased by 77 percent over the past 15 years. Additionally, revenues at these women-owned companies are up 63%, and growth in employment is up 28%.
Florida is one of the nation’s fastest-growing states for women entrepreneurs, and our alumnae have capitalized on this encouraging trend. Here is a look at some female entrepreneurs who have applied what they learned at Warrington and created flourishing businesses.
Kristen Hadeed had just secured her first major contract for her new company. So the Founder and CEO of Student Maid, a company where college students perform housecleaning services in Gainesville, hired 60 students to complete the work.
Forty-five of the 60 quit on the same day.
Hadeed’s worst day as Student Maid CEO was also her best. Instead of losing faith in the company and her vision, she became more resolved to be an effective leader. Her determination has helped Student Maid become one of Gainesville’s best entrepreneurial success stories.
Hadeed realized she couldn’t effectively lead from afar. She had to immerse herself fully in the work and with her employees.
“Our students are cleaning these apartments and I’m sitting in an air-conditioned clubhouse,” Hadeed said. “I really didn’t understand what leadership meant. Only when they quit did I look at myself and how I was leading.”
Hadeed’s leadership skills are no longer in doubt. She’s fostered a culture where employees remain with the company for an average of 2.5 years—while the industry average is about two months, Hadeed said. She has opened a second office in Pensacola, and is developing MaidSuite, a software technology designed to manage scheduling for cleaning companies.
By the way, those 45 workers who quit? Hadeed convinced them to come back to work. Every single one of them.
Diana Kelly Buchanan, then only 23 years old, was at a Las Vegas showcase promoting her new shoe design company when Andre Assous, one of the industry’s top designers, walked over to her booth.
He asked Kelly Buchanan if this was in fact her booth and her company. She said yes.
“‘You’re crazy!’” Kelly Buchanan recalls. “‘You’re only 23. This industry is so tough.’ Maybe I was a little bit crazy. Not everyone took me seriously, but that made me work that much harder.”
Kelly Buchanan’s hard work has paid off. Five years after starting Diana E. Kelly, Inc., the company has become a mainstay in the highly competitive footwear industry.
Taking on the fashion industry wasn’t in Kelly Buchanan’s plans when she arrived at the University of Florida. She studied pre-med and communications before entrepreneurship classes and a study abroad trip to France brought her to Warrington.
“That took me over the edge,” she said. “I really connected with the program after that.”
Kelly Buchanan built up her company’s brand the hard way. She traveled extensively during the company’s early stages, appearing at showcases and on local morning television shows. She contacted shop after shop convincing them to carry her shoes.
Kelly Buchanan’s persistence worked. Approximately 200 boutiques were carrying her shoes by the company’s second year of existence.
“We didn’t have to do any more cold calling,” she said. “Boutiques were calling us.”
Leigh Ann Horton, and her husband, Vince, didn’t know much about the fire alarm/fire sprinkler or security business when they acquired AIT Life Safety.
What they did know was that the company’s growth potential was significant.
Their entrepreneurial instincts were correct. AIT has become a leader in commercial fire alarm/fire sprinkler systems in Orlando and Central Florida.
Leigh Ann, President at AIT, said the company was a desirable venture because it provided “recurring revenue,” a predictable, stable portion of revenue that can be consistently expected in the future. That Leigh Ann and Vince did not have experience in this industry was irrelevant.
“We knew we had contacts, and the ability to get people to believe we could build a good team,” Leigh Ann said.
And a good team is what they built. AIT had 26 employees during its first year (2009). The company now has 53 employees working in sales, engineering, customer service and field support. Additionally, AIT has grown by almost 30 percent in the past three years, a far cry from Year 1 when Leigh Ann admitted there were “a lot of bumps in the road.”
“We prayed a lot, kept our heads down and worked really hard,” Leigh Ann said. “I don’t believe you’re an entrepreneur until you lose sleep over payroll.”
Here are some more Warrington alumnae who are realizing their entrepreneurial dreams: