Report puts Nebraska near bottom of the pack for female business ownership

Carmen Tapio, inductee into Greater Omaha Chamber Hall of Fame (Courtesy of Omaha Chamber)

GNWBC is honored to be mentioned by Carmen Tapio in the following article. She states she sees progress with organizations such as the Grow Nebraska Business Women’s Business Center, created in 2021 to help women entrepreneurs.

“OMAHA — When seeking financing early on for a company that today is climbing the Inc. 5000 national list of fastest-growing companies, Carmen Tapio faced questions that remain burned in her memory.

One banker, she said, asked: Does your husband know what you are doing? 

She said she was characterized as risky.

“Not the business, but you,” Tapio recalled the financial lending agent saying.

Tapio, who went on to launch North End Teleservices, a company that reports more than 1,000% growth over the past three years, said she doubts that men face the same gender-based and “sexist“ reception when seeking capital to start business ventures.

She said she was not particularly surprised to see that an analysis by online small business lender OnDeck ranked Nebraska near the bottom of the pack for female business ownership. There’s much room for progress in all states, she said.

Authors of the OnDeck report leaned on the Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey to calculate the percentage of businesses within each geographical area that are owned by females.

The findings showed Nebraska with the third-worst standing among states, with 15.79%.

Topping the rankings was Alaska, with 24.7%, and Colorado, with 23.8%.

Ranked behind the Husker state were South Dakota and West Virginia.

The climate in Nebraska is changing — or I think, more accurately, wants to change.

– Carmen Tapio, founder of North End Teleservices and chair of Greater Omaha Chamber board

Tapio, who also chairs the board of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said conditions for women to succeed as business owners are improving, to a degree. She cited work of the women-led Proven Ventures fund.

“The climate in Nebraska is changing — or I think, more accurately, wants to change,” said Tapio.

Erica Wassinger is one of three women on the four-person Proven Ventures team that has invested in a dozen startups within the past few years. Two-thirds of those initiatives are led by women, Wassinger said, and more than half have people of color at the helm.

That ratio is not the norm, however, Wassinger said. She said Nebraska is lacking for startup collaboratives whose mission is to work with and help break down barriers for budding entrepreneurs.

“There is a huge gap,” she said, noting that the Omaha Chamber no longer has the Startup Collaborative, which she had led before helping to start Proven Ventures, a Burlington Capital program. 

Wassinger said the startups her team has chosen to invest in likely reflect an atypical portfolio because women on her team make up 75% of the people “writing the checks.” 

Objective data drives their choices, she said, but the team likely places greater value on nontraditional attributes that tend to level the playing field. 

Josie Schafer, who heads the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research, said that Nebraska’s business ownership reflects a diversity lag overall. She said 87% of Nebraska businesses are owned by white, non-Latinos while the state share of population that’s white, non-Latino is 77%.

Disproportionate leadership opportunities for women and other groups has wide-ranging impact for a state economy, she said. Lack of representation at the top can translate into lack of services to meet needs of certain populations, Schafer said.

“It may send a negative signal to business owners in other states about how included and successful they can be here in Nebraska,” she added.

Tapio sees progress with organizations such as the Grow Nebraska Women’s Business Center, created in 2021 to help women entrepreneurs with resources and training.

She believes that the success of women in leading and launching their own companies is rooted in networking and “showing up” where business gets done.

That led her to open the new “NET Work Spot,” a coworking storefront where entrepreneurs are encouraged to share ideas. She hopes to open four other such places around Omaha.

Across the street from the first NET Work Spot, which is near 24th and Lake Streets, Tapio expects to break ground in the next year on a new multimillion-dollar mixed-use campus. The development will be anchored by the new corporate headquarters for her company.

Founded in 2015, North End Teleservices is the state’s largest Black-owned business and is No. 610 on the Inc. 5000 list, which ranks the country’s fastest-growing private companies.

She said that while encountering plenty of rejections along her way, perseverance helped, as did alternative funding sources such as new market tax credits.

Business mentoring, particularly by other women, is critical to see shifts in female-led and -owned companies, she said.

“We have to engage, use our voices and be willing to extend a hand to shape how business gets done to be more inclusive of women,” she said.”

This Article was written by  CINDY GONZALEZ in the Nebraska Examiner.

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