Kristi Kraft moved back to Bismarck to start It's About Time! concierge service in 2008. She did not know of any other businesses like it in town and thought she could fill a niche.
"I've never worked for anyone else so it never occurred to me not to try something," she said.
More women, like Kraft, are becoming business owners in North Dakota. There are an estimated 18,400 female-owned businesses in the state. The businesses employ about 19,000 and make about $2 billion in sales, according to the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, a study of U.S. Census Bureau data commissioned by American Express OPEN.
North Dakota is ranked 25th, with 48.2 percent growth in the of number of businesses over the past 15 years. The state is third in revenue growth, with a 125.2 percent increase between 1997 and 2012. Nationally, the number of female-owned businesses has risen by 200,000 within the past year and has increased by 54 percent since 1997.
Kraft said she always has been interested in lots of different subjects and the concierge business gives her something new to do every day. She does work for both business and personal clients, from planning and running events to stuffing envelopes and filing invoices.
Kraft's business has grown from half a dozen customers to about 30 and hers is not the only one.
"There's been a lot of new businesses," she said. "I do see a lot more women getting out there."
A lot of female-owned businesses start out of necessity, Alice Bredin, a spokeswoman for the study, said. "They need an alternative or additional form of income. For many people the answer is to start a company."
Another reason female-owned businesses are increasing is better access to education, according to Deb Eslinger, executive director for the Center for Technology & Business in Bismarck. There are online classes with a flexible schedule, making it easier to get a degree and start a company. There also are more programs to support female business owners.
In more rural states, like North Dakota, there are fewer metro areas and employment opportunities. This makes entrepreneurship more attractive, Eslinger said.
Ellen Jacobson started Sylvan Learning Center at 212 W. Century Ave. almost 17 years ago. She had been a teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Mandan for 18 years and was looking for a new career.
Jacobson saw an ad for Sylvan in the paper. She had taught first, second and fourth grades and had seen skill gaps in her students. She didn't know of any tutoring centers in Bismarck at the time and thought it was something she would be able to do.
"My husband thought I was crazy. So I told him, 'You can come with me or you can stay here but I'm flying out to Baltimore to see what this is about.' "
Jacobson now employs 20 to 25 people and has between 100 and 150 students attending Sylvan at a time.
"It was just something I had a passion for," she said. "It's just been exciting watching us start out with no students and working up to what we have now."
Janeanne Bischke never intended to get into the trucking business. Now she is the owner of CrossCountry Courier at 1841 Hancock Drive.
Bischke, a native of Robinson, moved back to North Dakota and became the chief managing officer of CrossCountry in 2004.
"I was going to join as director of information systems technology for them," she said. "Once I was here I was asked to take on the responsibility of running the business."
Bischke then bought the business in 2010 instead of letting it be sold elsewhere when the owner, Dewey Tietz, wanted to retire.
"I knew that if we were to do that we would probably be bought out by a bigger trucking company that would absorb us into their company, and I knew that many people would lose their jobs," she said.
Bischke said, in her experience, female and male business owners face the same challenges, but one problem women who attend workshops at the Center for Technology & Business say they have is gaining access to capital, Eslinger said.
"Women typically have a harder time getting loans for businesses, in part due to their lack of established credit. They end up funding their businesses with credit cards or with loans from family members."
Another challenge that both men and women face is balancing work and family time.
"I'm also a mother and a wife," said Heather Jones, owner of City Air Mechanical in Bismarck. "I want to dedicate as much time to family as I do business."
Being a business owner gives Jones the flexibility she needs to do that.
Jones got into the family business at City Air Mechanical in 1999 when she opened the Bismarck branch at 3505 E. Rosser Ave. City air is a contracting company that does large commercial construction.
Jones said it can be hard for a woman to be taken seriously in the construction industry, but growing up with company gave her the knowledge she needs to do well.
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