Women Rock Florida’s Busi­ness Scene

Women en­trepreneurs thrive in this low-cost, busi­ness-friendly en­vi­ron­ment.


It was smooth sail­ing for Kay Stephen­son, co-founder and CEO of 'ata­maxx Group, for her first 10 years in busi­ness. Her com­pany pro­vides se­cure com­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vices to law en­force­ment and se­cu­rity com­pa­nies—and com­pe­ti­tion from big­ger com­pa­nies was min­i­mal. But that changed dra­mat­i­cally af­ter Septem­ber 11, 2001.

Rather than con­fronting the in­creas­ing num­ber of large com­peti­tors head-on, she freely shared her ex­pe­ri­ence and tech­nol­ogy, deftly po­si­tion­ing based 'ata­maxx, a cer­ti­fied wom­anowned busi­ness (WOB), as an in­valu­able part­ner. That part­ner­ship made those large com­pa­nies el­i­gi­ble for set-aside con­tracts that oth­er­wise would have been out of their reach.

From the dozens of Lean In Cir­cles through­out the state to an abun­dance of tar­geted re­sources, Florida is a great lo­ca­tion for women en­trepreneurs. Stephen­son has ben­e­fited from many of them. “The busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment and the re­sources avail­able here make Florida a very at­trac­tive place for women-owned busi­nesses,” she says.

Florida’s ro­bust econ­omy abounds with op­por­tu­ni­ties for a wide range of busi­nesses.

It is home to mar­ket lead­ers in tech­nol­ogy, avi­a­tion, life sci­ences, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and many oth­ers. Florida ranked third among all states by num­ber of WOBs in 2016, ac­cord­ing to “The 2016 State of Women-Owned Busi­nesses” re­port. More tellingly, it recorded the high­est growth in num­ber of womenowned firms be­tween

2007 and 2016—up 67 per­cent.

Af­ter suc­cess­fully repo­si­tion­ing her busi­ness af­ter 9/11, Stephen­son had to build a new state-of-the-art, 32,500-square-foot fa­cil­ity just to keep up with the boom­ing de­mand for Data­maxx’s ser­vices. At that time, she briefly con­sid­ered a move to another state, but the com­pelling rea­sons to stay put quickly made that idea a non-starter. Stephen­son is quick to tout Florida’s many ad­van­tages. A busi­ness-friendly cli­mate and fa­vor­able tax struc­ture com­ple­ment a com­pet­i­tive cost struc­ture, tal­ented work­force, and ro­bust tech­nol­ogy in­fra­struc­ture. In ad­di­tion, the state is home to a num­ber of en­tre­pre­neur­ial in­cu­ba­tors like the Florida State Univer­sity Re­search Foun­da­tion.

Florida is just as ap­peal­ing to high­con­cept en­trepreneurs, says Anna Bond, cre­ative di­rec­tor and co-owner, with her hus­band, Nathan Bond, of Ri­fle Paper

Co. Their artis­tic paper goods ven­ture in Win­ter Park, just out­side Orlando, has achieved ex­plo­sive growth since its 2009 launch. It’s been on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-grow­ing busi­nesses since 2013 and now has a work­force of about 200.

“We de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a cre­ative and re­ally in­ter­est­ing com­pany to work for, and that at­tracted very tal­ented peo­ple early on,” says Anna Bond. She re­tained those promis­ing early hires, who grew with the com­pany. She con­sid­ers tal­ent pool ac­cess one of Florida’s big ad­van­tages, in ad­di­tion to the num­ber of other women busi­ness own­ers in the area. “It cre­ates a very sup­port­ive at­mos­phere for fe­male en­trepreneurs,” she says.

Ac­cess to su­pe­rior man­u­fac­tur­ing and lo­gis­tics in­fra­struc­ture has been a boon to Ri­fle Paper. It’s formed long

term re­la­tion­ships with “won­der­ful lo­cal part­ners that know our stan­dards,” Bond says. Low cost of liv­ing and com­mer­cial real es­tate val­ues let the com­pany main­tain a large re­tail space in down­town Orlando and a mas­sive ware­house op­er­a­tion just 15 min­utes away.

Lee Kapel says Florida was the per­fect place for her to break through the avi­a­tion in­dus­try’s no­to­ri­ous gen­der bar­ri­ers. As owner, pres­i­dent, and CEO of We­ston-based TSI Avi­a­tion, she uses her com­pany’s WOB sta­tus to tar­get lu­cra­tive gov­ern­ment and pri­vate-sec­tor con­tracts.

Cuban-born Kapel par­tic­u­larly val­ues the mul­ti­cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment that char­ac­ter­izes south Florida. ”We do so much busi­ness in Latin Amer­ica and other parts of the world,” she says. “Hav­ing a mul­ti­cul­tural work­force has been huge for us!”

From high-tech in­fra­struc­ture and a busi­ness-friendly at­mos­phere to a deep tal­ent pool and renowned qual­ity of life, Florida has emerged as the growth leader in women-owned busi­nesses. And with the wealth of re­sources tar­geted to fe­male en­trepreneurs it’s no sur­prise that so many women busi­ness own­ers are choos­ing the Sun­shine State.

Anna Bond, co-founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor of Ri­fle Paper Co.

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