Our country was built by ambitious entrepreneurs who transformed their passions and dreams into innovative creations and companies that have changed our lives and shaped the future. In recognition of Entrepreneurs’ Day on Nov. 17, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce features three exemplary female entrepreneurs who have achieved success and continue to inspire others.
Entrepreneurs are essential to a successful economy because not only do their business ventures create new jobs, but they also push traditional and older companies to innovate, creating better products and solutions for consumers.
Sidnee Peck, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, has been an entrepreneur for as long as she can remember, starting all the way back with the babysitting/birthday party entertainment business she started as child.
“I’m not sure anyone ever hired me as a clown!” says Peck, a 2014 ATHENA Award finalist. Similar to most of the entrepreneurs featured here, she didn’t let early adversity dissuade her from pursuing her next business idea.
That next idea became technology startup Alaris, Inc., a joint venture between Rolls-Royce and ASU to commercialize a biometric technology originally developed to electronically listen to sound waves bouncing off of jet engine blades to detect structural defects. Alaris further developed the technology, named SignHear, to verify an identity by listening to the unique sound patterns emitted by a person’s written signature.
“That was my first real taste of how much fun – and challenging – entrepreneurship can be,” she said.
Peck eventually decided that she wanted to share her passion with others, so she sought out a classroom to not only share her expertise with others, but to also transform how entrepreneurship is taught. Her method is hands-on with fewer lectures and cases and “more actual business creation.”
She landed at ASU, and now as head of the Center for Entrepreneurship, she supports and empowers students who want to start a business while in school. “We believe that the best way to learn if entrepreneurship is for you is to just try it!”
But don’t think that because she is teaching, her original entrepreneurial fire is extinguished.
“I am also currently building a new software startup focused on at-home caregivers for loved ones with dementia that is in the very, very early stages,” she added.
Cynthia Wrasman, owner and “chief catalyst” of her own management consulting business, Kefi Catalyst, agrees that entrepreneurs face many challenges daily and says that the keys to success rest in staying focused and effectively managing time between acquiring new business and providing services sold to existing clients.
She has experienced more advantages than disadvantages as a woman entrepreneur, but says the biggest challenge she has faced is getting access to capital.
“Most woman business owners boot strap their businesses as they start up so their companies may not grow as big or as fast as other similar businesses,” she said.
For her and many others, the force driving them in their lives and entrepreneurial activities is passion. In fact, Wrasman used that idea in naming her business.
“The name ‘Kefi’ means passion in Greek,” she said. “I am Greek. The name reflects my own passion for life, business and helping people become better leaders!”
Wrasman, who previously served as president of the National Association of Women Business Owners – Phoenix Chapter, says her experiences here as a woman entrepreneur have been extremely positive. She has found that women business owners are, in general, more collaborative, giving and supportive than any other group of entrepreneurs.
She says the sky’s the limit for the hard-working women she encounters in the Valley.
“There is no glass ceiling holding anyone back, so these women entrepreneurs are committed, innovative and focused on making a difference in the lives of others and in the community,” Wrasman said.
Michele Kang’s path to founding Cognosante, a leading health care consulting and data management firm, started like many other entrepreneurs’ journeys did – with great ideas followed by adversity.
She started in 2008 right before the market crashed. When it did, she had difficulty getting capital, but powered through with hard work and support from friends.
What came out of that time is Cognosante, which addresses a critical gap in the health IT market. She believes a smart, integrated, data-driven technological approach is the key to real transformation in the health care industry.
And her efforts are being noticed.
Kang was honored as 2015 EY Entrepreneur of the Year for the Washington, D.C. region. The recognition is quite prestigious, as there are EY programs in 145 cities in 60 countries.
Before going out on her own to found Cognosante, Kang served as vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s Health Solutions, where she built a health business providing mission-critical, enterprise-wide health applications, interoperable architecture and large-scale systems integration and engineering to leading health organizations.
Similar to the other women here, Kang recognizes the importance of a person’s passion in the work they do. She counts those around her as vital in her success.
“Finding the best people and retaining them (is key),” she said to the Washington Business Journal after receiving her EY award. “Not just the best technical people, but the people who share your vision and passion, most importantly the passion.”
-written by Josh Coddington, marketing and communications manager.