Getting into business can be hard enough but managing its growth successfully can be even harder. Recently, members of California Association For Micro Enterprise Opportunity (CAMEO) assembled a small group of minority businesswomen to build a coalition and discuss their challenges and successes.

Keynote speaker Sheila Brooks, CEO of SRB Communications, explained to those in attendance that minority women-owned businesses represent the fastest growing segment of new companies in California and the nation.

Brooks was one of several speakers at the “iViva Women Entrepreneur: A Women of Color Entrepreneur Symposium” in Los Angeles. This first-time event, sponsored by CAMEO, offered technical assistance and peer support to minority women business owners.

One CAMEO member, Forescee Hogan-Rowles, president and CEO of Community Financial Resource Center (CFRC), explained that this event was an interesting connect because it had women of color coming together exchanging new ideas and information. She also said, “for the first time in the state we are pulling together women of all ethnic backgrounds to learn about small business entrepreneur research.”

Minority-owned business receipts showed significant growth between 1997 and 2002, with Black-owned businesses showing revenue gains of 25 percent.

“Our 85 members serve about 20,000 businesses a year,” says Claudia Viek, CAMEO CEO. She added that these included start-ups and small growing businesses throughout California. “This symposium will look at research, inspirational models, and resources to help women of color start and maintain businesses.”

Estimates from the 2007 Census Bureau’s Economic Census, which is conducted every five years, indicates 1.9 million companies are majority-owned (51 percent or more) by women of color in the U.S. Additional research conducted by the Center for Women’s Business Research explains businesses owned by women of color constitute one of the fastest growing segments of the United States economy, with minority women starting new firms at five times the rate of all other firms. However, the average revenue of these companies is less than 25 percent of that of businesses owned by their White counterparts.

African American entrepreneurship remains low, but is increasing. While Census data suggests that businesses owned by minorities and women skew smaller, Brooks encouraged minority women entrepreneurs to refine their business skills.

“Working with a smaller, talented staff is a competitive advantage,” says Brooks. “You have to figure out what are the client requirements. We have to continue to be risk takers, and most importantly, we must learn how to close the deal.”

At the moment, Hogan-Rowles said she would settle for the continued positive economic impacts of micro enterprise development in California as well. As a co-founder of CAMEO, Hogan-Rowles is aware women entrepreneurs face challenges, “whether it’s trying to get bids on major public sector contacts, or getting to fortune 500 companies.”

As part of its ongoing mission, CAMEO realizes that assembling this group of minority businesswomen is an important step towards building a powerful coalition. One key final outcome of the event was to demonstrate the impact of solidarity and sharing information, and as Brooks said, “we need to learn how to bridge rather bond. We must learn how to close the deal.”