Start a Business In This Economy?


For these burgeoning entrepreneurs, it worked.

In a recession, who would leave a comfortable job to risk starting a business?

Half of the Fortune 500 companies were launched during a recession, but that was little comfort to the following women who launched their ventures during one of the longest economic downturns in modern times. These entrepreneurs, in business from two to six years, are not only doing quite well, but also feel that life is better since striking out on their own.

Entrepreneur Kimberly Eberl doesn’t mince words. “I was fired,” she says about the job she lost six years ago at a large PR firm. While seeking full-time employment, she accepted freelance work, which quickly grew into multiple projects and ultimately her own company, Motion PR.

“When I started, I never thought that it would be long-term,” she says. “I never had the entrepreneur vibe until I got fired.”

To keep overhead low, she worked from home, then moved into an office down the street. Now, with 10 full- and part-time employees, the business has relocated to the North Michigan Avenue area.

“I’ve always taken very small risks,” she explains. “I’ve never bitten off more than I could chew. I couldn’t be happier.”

Of course, risks and entrepreneurship are a package deal, and part of the learning process while becoming a first-time business owner. “To be frank, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I started,” confesses Mallory Ulaszek, who left a position in technology sales and opened the boutique Cityblue Apparel & Denim in September 2009.

“So of course my business plan changed a lot, and it still does. In the fashion industry, things are always changing, and it’s my job to stay on top of it, ahead of the crowd.”

This month, Ms. Ulaszek is opening a second boutique called CB in Lake Forest, as well as an e-commerce business; it’s an impressive expansion given the economic climate. “I’m going to put all my heart and time into making sure those ventures are a success,” she says. “Surviving in a recession is about focusing on the ‘right now’ and knowing every minor detail you possibly can about your business. It’s about being proactive, admitting when something isn’t working and fixing it.”

Stacy Levy left a successful, high-profile job as general manager and chief PR and marketing officer at Exhale Spa to follow her “true calling” – teaching yoga and consulting about health and wellness. A certified holistic health counselor and yoga instructor who teaches private as well as group classes at well-known studios and health clubs, she established Aura Yoga & Wellness in 2010. Her first client? Exhale.

“A select few people did question my judgment,” she states about leaving the job, “but I listened to my intuition and knew myself well enough to trust that I was moving in the right direction.” She admits that the early days were challenging. “There were days that left me depleted and running on empty, but I needed those days to ground me, to give me a reference point and a sense of balance. That experience motivated me even more so and made me better equipped to support the healing of others, which is ultimately what I’m most passionate about.”

Amy Leffel, founder/owner of TEAMiFIT, left teaching to pursue her entrepreneurial career. “I was an unsatisfied elementary school teacher,” she states simply.
With an undergraduate degree in exercise physiology, and a background as a fitness consultant, she decided to return to her fitness roots. She launched an outdoor exercise boot camp, which became an overnight sensation when she began offering coupons on Groupon.

“I was in a classroom teaching when my cell phone started vibrating with calls responding to Groupon,” Ms. Leffel recalls. Almost overnight, her client base grew to 600. Because of the immense demand, she quit teaching two months before the end of the school year to launch TEAMiFIT. Today, she has 25 full- and part-time staff members and a 5,000-square-foot gym in River North, offering over 140 fitness classes a week.

Her biggest challenge has been her lack of a business background, but family members with business expertise have offered advice. Still, she learned most of her business practices from scratch. Success has come by making mistakes and finding growth from each one.

“When genuine passion is the driving fuel, anything is possible,” Ms. Leffel says. Her mantra: “It’s all about finding the serenity in the daily storm.”

Yasmina Marie Slimani would agree that passion plays an important part in business success. While serving as an officer at a large downtown bank, she had an opportunity to take another job for the same salary or accept a buyout offer. She accepted the buyout and launched Belle d‘Argane, a natural skincare line with a philanthropic goal: build a brighter future for Moroccan communities.

Ms. Slimani works exclusively with women’s cooperatives in Morocco, where she grew up. The women make a living by harvesting fruit and extracting the oil. Labs will then ensure the quality and package the products, which are imported to the U.S. by Belle d’Argane, and sold online and at salons and spas.

For Ms. Slimani, the creative side of the business was her greatest challenge. “I have an MBA and a math background, and English is my second language,” she explains. “It was harder for me to describe to designers what I wanted in a logo, a package and a website. It’s harder than having to describe numbers and the timeline is different. It’s an ongoing process.”

Since founding the company, she’s hired three part-time sales people and is looking to add full-time employees. “Helping people and making a difference with my own company was my long-time dream,” she concludes. “Knowing that I’m really helping women here and abroad is a dream finally becoming reality.”


About Hedy M. Ratner

Hedy M. Ratner is founder and co-president of the Women's Business Development Center, the largest, oldest and most comprehensive and successful women's business assistance center in the U.S. She blogs about entrepreneurship, working women, success stories, small business and more in “Windows to Business Success.”