By Erin O'Donnell.
Earlier this year, the online credit monitoring website WalletHub released its study of the best and worst cities for women business owners. Three of the Volunteer State's metro areas ranked in the top five, including Nashville at the No. 1 spot. Chattanooga was in second place, and Memphis was in fourth. (Knoxville even made a good showing at No. 15.)
Rounding out the top five were Columbus, Ohio, in third place and Milwaukee, Wis., in fifth.
A WalletHub analyst noted how the state of Tennessee is prioritizing helping female entrepreneurs and improving their access to capital and other resources. There are nine small-business incubators in the state that are women-focused, which is more incubators than many states have in total. And these organizations are connecting women with investors and mentors that they may not otherwise reach.
In 2015, Tennessee was also chosen as one of only six locations for new Women’s Business Centers, sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The WalletHub survey looked at 10 key metrics to make the rankings, three of which were weighted most heavily:
- Overall friendliness toward new business: Includes access to financing, office space availability, and labor costs.
- Female entrepreneurship: How prevalent is female entrepreneurship in the area? Looks at the percentage of women-owned businesses, and their revenue and growth.
- Business climate for women: Looks at gender inequality, such as the size of the wage gap between genders, and conditions for working mothers.
Here are a few more factors that propelled these cities to the top five:
Nashville, Tenn.: The Music City has the third highest average revenue of women-owned businesses out of the 100 metro areas surveyed, and it had the best female entrepreneurship rank out of the top five cities. It's home to entrepreneurs such as Sarah Bellos, founder of Stony Creek Colors, which makes plant-based dyes for the textile industry to reduce water pollution from petroleum-based dyes. By 2015, Bellos had raised more than half a million dollars. She's an alumna of the Launch Tennessee incubator, a public-private partnership; about one-third of LaunchTN's recent masterclass graduates are female founders.
Chattanooga, Tenn.: Tennessee's fourth-largest city is home of the Jump Fund, which is the Southeast’s only female-focused angel fund. The fund's female investors put capital into early-stage companies led by women. One company they backed was Feetz, which makes custom shoes using 3-D printers. Founder Lucy Beard moved to Chattanooga from Silicon Valley. In the WalletHub survey, Chattanooga also ranked as the second most new-business-friendly metro area in the country (Tulsa was first).
Columbus, Ohio: Columbus ranked well in both female entrepreneurship and friendliness to new businesses. It's home to a handful of women-focused business centers, including the nonprofit Women’s Small Business Accelerator, which offers affordable office space to women along with peer-to-peer mentoring and funding resources. Thumbtack.com also lauded the city for its ease of starting a new business. And the suburb of Dublin was recognized by data-analysis firm GoodCall as the second-best city for women entrepreneurs to find "a healthy economy, a stable job market, and support from the local community and like-minded businesswomen."
Memphis, Tenn.: From 2007 to 2012, Memphis had the highest growth in female-owned businesses—116 percent—among the nation’s 25 largest cities, according to New York City think tank The Center for an Urban Future. Most, however, don't have paid employees, and the city's economic leaders are working with accelerators to change that and move toward female-owned firms that create jobs. WalletHub also found Memphis nearly as friendly to new businesses as its neighbor Chattanooga, ranking fourth overall.
Milwaukee, Wis.: The second best business climate for women, according to WalletHub, is in this midwestern city. It helps that Wisconsin ranked as a top state (seventh overall) for working mothers in another WalletHub survey, with good marks for work-life balance and childcare. Women-owned firms in Milwaukee are also attracting more investment. In July, the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. was one of only 15 organizations nationwide to land a $1.1 million private grant to help diverse-owned small businesses.
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