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How Women Can Drive the Entrepreneurial Spirit

When I first started ECCO Select, the World Wide Web was still the Wild West, but the Internet and technology were already rapidly changing how we do business. As a systems engineer and manager in IT, I saw a need for talent who truly understood the emerging technologies and were able to apply their skills to help the business.

It turned out to be a successful idea. In the past 22 years, ECCO Select has grown to more than 200 associates nationwide, and we’re proud to serve many Fortune 1000 and federal government clients. Of course, I know firsthand the road for women entrepreneurs often has a few additional potholes.

Yet, we’re seeing real progress in some respects. According to Womenable, a total of 11.3 million women-owned businesses are currently operating in the United States, which comprises 38 percent of the business population. And since 2007, women-owned businesses grew five times faster than the national average.

For my friends and colleagues who are thinking about taking the plunge – or recently did – I offer a few tips from lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Keep good people close

My mother has always been my role model. An immigrant with a limited education and a very heavy accent, she’s always inspired me by the way she goes after what she wants. I’ve seen the way she has leveraged her own strengths to overcome what others would perceive as weakness. She instilled in me a strong work ethic, good values and the confidence I could be anything I wanted to be. She’s been my rock, and because of her and my father, I was able to build a career with the support they provided.

Find those people in your life who inspire you, who motivate you to keep following your dream. Lisa Morales-Hellebo is the executive director and cofounder of the New York Fashion Tech Lab. She suggests building your “good old girls” network:

“It really just refers to making sure you support other equally impressive women, even when it doesn’t directly benefit you. The rising tide raises all ships, and we owe it to each other to help others recognize the best and brightest among us. Recommend others for panels, jobs, consulting work, investments, or partnerships, not because we are women, but because we are major contributors, and more people should know it.”

Expand your perspective

We’re lucky to be blessed with such an entrepreneurial culture in our hometown, so don’t let those resources go to waste. Involve yourself with organizations that can provide you with opportunities to interact with others from various demographics and industries. The Central Exchange has more than 1,100 members from across the metro, including business owners, managers, executives, nonprofit leaders and community volunteers. The programming offered by the group is a great way to vastly expand your network.

In addition to building that network of supportive women, find groups and associations with men who value and support contributions from women. Many male colleagues, bosses, and friends throughout the years have provided me with some amazing insight from the other side of the gender divide. They’ve had different attributes I’ve admired—from being business-savvy to possessing strong negotiation skills to building virtual empires from a single idea. Many of them are very humble, and all of them are generous. I surround myself with these people because of their ethics, integrity, and willingness to help others. After all, a little diversity of perspective is always a good thing.

Be bold

Nothing great has ever been achieved by playing it safe. Becoming the next successful female entrepreneur takes courage, determination and a lot of moxie.

When I first started ECCO Select, I wasn’t sure where I was going to find my first customer. I decided to call up one of my former employers and asked him to review my business plan. He was excited about the value proposition and asked how I could help them modernize their old legacy systems. After discussing several options, he asked if I’d be willing to come back and lead the effort to update those systems. As a result, I was my first employee. Within a year, we had 12 consultants working on projects throughout his organization.

Now, go get started

Women still have a lot of ground to gain in the business world, but the tide is starting to turn. I’m proud of the team we’ve created at ECCO, and I’m excited to help more women (and men) achieve their dream of entrepreneurship.

Since launching my business, I’ve realized it all comes down to the fundamentals: Believe in yourself. Keep an open mind. Be willing to learn. And above all, deliver.

Jeanette Hernandez Prenger is president and CEO of ECCO Select, a talent acquisition + advisory consulting company, specializing in people, process and technology solutions for our clients. Learn more at www.eccoselect.com, or let her know your thoughts on the Facebook page or on Twitter @ECCOSelectCORP.