Felicia Mellor just wanted to make the perfect cup of coffee and create a space for the community at Gathering Grounds Coffee House.

She left a job as a house manager that paid more than being an independent business owner to pursue her high school dream.

“It’s my baby,” Mellor said. “The biggest struggle is you’re never really off, which I knew but didn’t really know. It’s just the constant impending sense of wanting it to be the best cup of coffee every time it goes out regardless of who makes it.”

Mellor who started Gathering Grounds with help from her mother, Peggy Cheatham, is among a new wave of women entrepreneurs who are just as likely as men to start a business and be just as successful, according to data from SCORE, a nonprofit partner with the Small Business Administration.

The SCORE surveyed 20,000 business owners and 47 percent of the female respondents started businesses within the last year, compared to 44 percent of male respondents.

Laura Engstrom, business finance officer at Oregon Business Development Department said the data doesn’t speak as to why more women are opening businesses, but she’s seen the same desire in women to fill a niche or a dream like Mellor did.

“More women are feeling that they have an idea, opportunity or product that hasn’t been marketed before in a disruptive force,” Engstrom said. “Whoever has a good idea can start a business.”

While the numbers from SCORE don’t speak specifically to Douglas County, a U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners in 2012 showed, that of 7,517 existing businesses in Douglas County at the time, 31 percent were owned mostly by women and 22 percent were owned equally by men and women. The number of women owners is up from 25 percent of 8,762 business in 2007. Thirty-three percent of businesses in 2007 were co-owned by men and women.

The reasons women are opening businesses vary widely. For Mellor and Cheatham, starting a business came with less risk than others.

“I have the luxury of my husband having a job that can financially sustain us while I do this and grow this,” Mellor said. “Neither my mom nor I depend upon this to be a 100 percent success right out of the gate which is a nice spot to be in. We don’t have to have this up and running on day one making what we need to pay the mortgage and survive life.”

“A lot of the restrictions are loosening up,” Engstrom said. “Women are pretty savvy these days. There’s not a lot of those traditional roadblocks.”

While the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed more than 40 years ago, women still struggle with society’s expectations of women to prioritize family over a career.

Tammy Eichmann at the Countryside Veterinary Service in Canyonville knew too many peers who chose to take a few years off to be with their family and never got back into the career.

“I think the hardest thing for women is trying to find that balance of raising children and trying to still grow professionally,” Eichmann said. “When you have a profession like medical or veterinary or anything like that, these professions are constantly changing and if you step out, you might never be able to step back in because you just get left behind. For me, being a veterinary was what I wanted to do since I was a little girl and I’ve never been willing to give that up. For me, it wasn’t an option.”

She worked as a relief care vet for a few years so she could be home with her children and stay up-to-date on the field, when she realized a need for a vet in the south part of the county.

“There was such a need,” Eichmann said. “There’s a lot of pet owners in the South County area that was not very well served. It grew because there was a need.”

Her husband, Don Eichmann, initially kept his job but now he’s taken over the management side of the clinic and the two are working on opening another building in Myrtle Creek early next year. Their children are grown up, and Eichmann said she has the time to put into the business now.

Sue Van Volkenburg fully accepted the financial risk when she and her husband, Rhandy Van Volkenburg, purchased NAPA Auto Parts and came to Roseburg “virtually sight unseen” 20 years ago.

“If anything, being in the industry I’m in, auto parts, people assume it’s my husband’s business, not mine,” Van Volkenburg said. “They are surprised when they find out that we work together in it and we are equal partners. We were looking for a business that we could own together. I had the managerial knowledge and he had the auto parts knowledge. It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve ever done.”

People who want to start a new business or take an existing business to the next level have access to the Umpqua Community College Small Business Development Center, where Program Manager Kemberly Todd, can connect them with seasoned advisors to help guide them for free. She’s seen an increase in the number of women coming in to get support as they start, grow or close their businesses in the four years since she’s been at the center.

“It’s one of those things where I don’t think the data is telling the whole story,” Todd said. “Narratively, people that come in, it’s just as often we see a woman as a man and couples in business, they do generally list the man first, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a man-owned business. We’re not a minority anymore. People don’t have any impediments like the used to. I think having equal access to the resources helps.”

The center is one of 19 in the state, all of which report back to the state how many business owners they and their minority status and gender. According to their data, of the business owners who came into centers across the state, 55 percent were women. Douglas County tracks with the state at 56 percent.

“Entrepreneurs will always have to jump a gap that they cannot quantify,” Todd said. “I think women and men can equally shoulder that, it’s just a certain type of person that has that high tolerance for risk.”

Janelle Polcyn can be reached at jpolcyn@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow her on Twitter @JanellePolcyn.

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Janelle Polcyn is the business reporter at The News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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