Business & Tech

Mass. ranks near bottom for supporting female entrepreneurs, report finds

Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who also owns Stitch House Dorchester.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who also owns Stitch House Dorchester.

Why is Massachusetts such a tough place for female entrepreneurs?

That’s one question arising from a recent report that ranks the state 46 out of 50 in supporting women who start businesses, trailed only by New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and Nebraska.

The top five states in the study by educational content website FitSmallBusiness were Georgia, Florida, Maryland, California, and Colorado, with rankings derived from factors including the number of businesses run by women in each state and the percentage of state revenue that comes from those businesses.

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It’s no secret that women are at a disadvantage when it comes to breaking into the still male-dominated business world. Women are listed as the majority owners of 31 percent of the more than 27 million businesses in the United States, according to the 2016 US report in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Women also get consistently less funding than men for startups, according to the Harvard Business Review.

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One of the factors that accounts for Massachusetts’ low ranking is that the percentage of female entrepreneurs is lower than the national average. According to FitSmallBusiness, there are fewer businesses being opened by women per day here. That drives down the percentage of state revenue coming from businesses owned by women, making Massachusetts appear inhospitable as a result.

Susan Duffy, executive director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson, said the reason may be that entrepreneurship in this state is driven more by opportunity than necessity.

“Massachusetts’ efforts in wage equality are moving further along than other states, which creates opportunities for women to pursue careers in existing companies where they can be compensated fairly, so they’re not necessarily jumping ship to create their own businesses,” Duffy said.

For those who do choose to pursue opportunity-driven business, one of the biggest hurdles is finding space to lease. This feat is difficult for women like Erica Soma, a 28-year- old Roslindale resident and owner of neighborhood cycling studio Lyfe Cycle.

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“Before I signed a lease, I had some people who almost laughed at me,” Soma said, describing herself as a 5-foot-tall blonde woman who looks younger than her age. When she opened her business, she was 26 , single, and had no family on the East Coast.

Even after successfully getting her business up and running, she was surprised when people still looked at her and asked, “Oh, are you the owner?”

Going through the hassle of leasing space may have been a dealbreaker for Dorchester native Annissa Essaibi George, a Boston city councilor at large and owner of Stitch House Dorchester.

“I unfortunately prove some of the rule,” George said. “My husband owns my property, he owns the building that my business is in. For me that created a lot of security.”

The entrepreneurship report goes on to explain that Boston entrepreneurs tend to be older and more educated than in other metropolitan areas. That might explain why a hometown female politician would feel more comfortable, and why a less experienced young woman like Soma would receive incredulous looks.

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When it comes to starting a business, every woman’s experience is different — it’s just that Massachusetts adds its own set of obstacles to an already uphill battle.

Margeaux Sippell can be reached at margeaux.sippell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @margeauxsippell.