Pamela Laskey (right), of Portland Foodie Tours, stands with Heidi Stanvic. Pamela Laskey's Maine Foodie Tours was named the U.S. Small Business Administration's Woman Owned Small Business of the Year for Maine in 2017.

The number of companies nationwide owned by women increased 2.8 percent in 2016 over the previous year, but slid 1.8 percent in Maine, recent U.S. Census data show.

Maine women owned 5,213 companies, employed 41,426 people and had a payroll of $1.4 billion in 2016.

That’s about 27 percent of all Maine businesses in 2016, outpacing the 20 percent of all U.S. businesses owned by women. Part of the reason, business experts say, is the large number of small businesses in Maine compared to most states.

By comparison, the number of male-owned companies in Maine rose 1.9 percent from 2015 to 2016 to reach 18,975 companies. They employed a total 175,480 people and had a payroll of $6.6 billion.

Nationally, about one quarter of the women-owned businesses were held by minorities in 2016 compared to 4 percent in Maine. In the country and in Maine, Asians are the largest group of minority owners, with about half of the women-owned companies nationwide and 75 percent in Maine.

A good time for businesswomen in Maine

The nationwide rise in women business owners agrees with earlier surveys by American Express and others.

But because the U.S. Census Bureau does not explain its figures, women business experts in Maine say the small slide from 2015 to 2016 could simply be a blip or be attributable to the older population aging out of the workforce.

“It’s hard to tell the story with Census data around what it means,” Martha Bentley, director of innovation infrastructure at the Maine Technology Institute in Brunswick, said. The publicly funded nonprofit offers grants, loans and equity investment for early-stage companies that need money to grow.

Bentley said the applicants for MTI money have remained the same for years, about 80 percent male to 20 percent female.

She pointed to an American Express study last year that listed Maine as the Top 3 state with the highest employment vitality, which measured employment growth from 1997 to 2017 and the average number of employees at women-owned firms, notably in rural areas.

She said Maine has a lot of groups and activities geared toward getting women more involved in business, including operating a business or investing in one.

“Research shows diverse teams are the more successful teams,” she said. “That’s important for Maine to continue to recognize and keep in mind.”

She said MTI is a member of Maine Can Do, a website launched in June by companies and individuals to educate people about sexual harassment and how to respond to it. Bentley also is a founder of the organization.

Bentley said that while there are some reasons for concern in business statistics, including that the number of women in computer science is declining, she said with all the support for women to enter business, “there’s no better time for a woman in Maine to start a business.”

Part of that is groups like MTI and CEI that fund businesses. In June, Maine Women for Women and the Northern New England Women’s Investor Network held a full-day workshop in Portland designed to educate women who aren’t yet investors about how to get involved in early-stage company investing and in potential becoming an angel investor. Angels are wealth individuals who invest their own money.

Women investors step up

Bentley said it is important for women seeking money to face a group of investors that includes women investors.

Sandra Stone, a chair emerita for Maine Angels, which has chapters in Portland and Bangor, said Maine Angels brought in eight new female members since it started active recruiting in May 2017 to total 15 now. Stone also is active in the Northern New England Women’s Investor Network and other investor groups.

“Maine Angels is made up of 24 percent women,” she said. “That’s pretty huge.” Maine Angels invested $3.2 million in all types of companies, inside and outside Maine, in 2017.

Stone said the Bangor chapter is about to complete fundraising for its third angel fund this week. It is expected to top $1.3 million. One of the new members in the fundraising is a female investor, Stone said.

In addition to owning businesses, some of the top business people running organizations in Maine are women, Bentley said, Examples are Melissa Smith, president and CEO of WEX, a $1 billion-plus corporate payment services company in South Portland; Nancy McBrady, executive director of the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission in Orono; Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association in Portland; and many chamber of commerce heads.

The data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs were released Monday. The survey includes businesses by gender, ethnicity, race and veteran status. Data include the number of firms, receipts, payroll and employment for the nation, the states and the District of Columbia, and the 50 most populous metropolitan statistical areas.

This is the last year the entrepreneur survey will be done separately, Starting next year it will be combined with other Census studies.

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