Iowa’s Women-Owned Businesses on the Rise

Though more Iowa women are starting businesses, the journey to becoming a female entrepreneur can still feel lonely. CEO Melinda Pradarelli shares her story about starting a business and a list of conferences female entrepreneurs should attend.

As a woman who owns a business in Iowa, I am always thrilled to hear good news related to rising female business ownership.

In January, the 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express and prepared by research and training company Ventureneer, listed Iowa among the top 10 states where women-owned businesses have the highest economic clout.

In fact, Iowa tied for eighth place with Georgia for growth in the number of women-owned businesses and state growth in employment and revenues. Over the last half-century, women have gone from owning 4.6% to 40% of all businesses, according to the report.

As I was reading the 2018 report, it made me think about my own journey and the journey of dozens of women who have reached out to me over the years. Often they come looking for practical information about how to take their idea and make it a reality. Many received encouraging words and were directed to a number of wonderful organizations. But like me, most returned surprised not to find a comprehensive ‘how-to’ guide for starting a woman-owned business in Iowa.

We each gleaned bits of information here and there, but collectively kept thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if someone could put this all in one place?

How My Story Began

I grew up in Iowa and—like many—moved away for the first 10 years of my career. I began building my career in Arizona, South Carolina, and Wisconsin before boomeranging back to Iowa to start my own business in 1999. The first iteration of my marketing business allowed me to use my background as a journalist, marketing strategist, and writer while also being able to work from my home as I raised my two children.

Over the years, that business evolved into Meld Marketing, now nine employees strong in a newly renovated office space in Coralville, Iowa. The leap I took to open Meld Marketing in 2016 gave me an insider’s view into being a start-up in the state of Iowa and also being a woman-owned start-up.

A Need for Tools, Grants, Conferences, and Networking

One of the first things I did when starting my business was to reach out to half a dozen economic development professionals throughout the state. I wanted to find out if there was a primer for getting started or specific tools, grants, networking, and financial support for women-owned businesses. I was surprised by how hard it was to find this information. In time, I pieced together a network of valuable partners and insights, but I had to cover a lot of ground on my own.

The 2018 report reminded me of what I kept hoping for at the time: a resource that would bring together information about all the great things individual organizations throughout the state are already doing to support women-owned businesses. We have many of the pieces, but sometimes the threads are hard to follow.

In lieu of a guide, many women I know try to share personal stories to help others. I talk about what it took to open a marketing company. But I also share other elements critical to being a successful business: having strong partnerships with attorneys, accountants, and financial services and human resources providers. And taking the time to become a State of Iowa-certified Targeted Small Business (TSB). I feel fortunate to have surrounded myself and our company with good advisors.

I try to pass along what I’ve learned to the best of my ability. At Meld, we do a lot of work with startup companies. Many come to us looking for a marketing partner, but end up commenting on the business consultation part of what we do. We guide them through finding a trademark attorney, why you need an accountant, who to align with to set up benefits, and much more.   

As the report states, we have come a long way in Iowa, and I’m very proud of that. In our continued journey to be even better, I’d love to see an organization create an official guide to starting and running a woman-owned business in Iowa.

Or, if there is already one out there, I’d love to have a copy so I can share it with others. If that’s the case, I hope you will contact me to provide insights on where other entrepreneurial women in Iowa can go to ask questions and get started.

Where to Begin

In the meantime, here are a few organizations and conferences that may be helpful.  

The ICR (Corridor) ConferenceWhen: April 10-11, 2019

The 2019 ICR (Corridor) Leadership Conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a two-day event filled with inspiring and intellectual speakers, hands-on breakout sessions, and more.

Women Who Create™ Conference
When: April 16, 2019

This conference at Iowa State University brings together women entrepreneurs, women business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs, and individuals of all genders who support women entrepreneurs for a full day of workshops and presentations aimed at growing a business.

EntreFEST
When: May 16-17, 2019

A two-day conference and festival in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that celebrates the collaboration between people who make things happen. It creates opportunities for people to connect to spark professional growth, community building, and outside-the-box thinking.

The State of Iowa Targeted Small Business (TSB) Program

The TSB program is designed to help women, individuals with minority status, service-connected disabled veterans and individuals with disabilities overcome some of the hurdles to start or grow a small business in Iowa.

Know of other resources and conferences for women entrepreneurs in Iowa? Reach out and share them so we can spread the word!

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