CU women business owners share importance of female representation in the marketplace


By buzz Staff

The number of women-owned businesses has risen within the past few years, but gaps between male and female wages as well as funding for women-owned business has remained.

For the last 15 years, the gender pay gap has existed in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, women earned 84% of what men earned in 2020.

Though that gap is narrowing, at an estimated 16 cents, while being at 36 cents in 1980, women-owned businesses are still facing issues accessing funding.

In 2021, for example, female founders secured only 2% of venture capital in the United States, the smallest share since 2016.

Despite this and many other obstacles, women are still starting and maintaining successful businesses, and research has found that Black women specifically are starting more successful businesses than any other population.

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In regular, everyday life, women make more money-related decisions for their families than men, and women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, conveying the influence of women’s purchasing power.

In the Champaign-Urbana area, you can probably find a women-owned business on every block, with each women behind it with her own story and talent.

Buzz spoke with a handful of those women, both in honor of Women’s History Month and to acknowledge the steps taken by women entrepreneurs since they gained the right to open a bank account in the 1960s and the right to receive a business loan without a male co-signer in 1988.

Emily Young, founder, director and CEO at Empowhered Apparel

Photo courtesy of Emily Young

“Being able to be a woman in this field and really be able to connect with women and make them feel comfortable in doing something they might not feel comfortable doing is really important to me.”




Kirstie Davis, owner of Farmers Insurance Protege

“I’m grateful to be living in a time frame where it is not only OK but encouraged to own your own business. I know even looking back at my mom’s generation, it was much more difficult for them to do that.”

Lisa Rector, agent and owner of The Lisa Rector Team at Keller Williams Realty

Photo courtesy of Lisa Rector

“I wake up every day to lead my business for my daughter and for other little eyes watching. I want every little girl to know to set big goals and then go get them and not to let anyone hold them back.”







Lola Pittenger, owner of Glow by Lola

“Connecting to the strength but also compassion and embracing our emotions, as females, often tend to sometimes (come) more instinctively. Thankfully, to our culture we’ve been allowed to, and sometimes it looks bad, but I really don’t think it ever does. I love that about being a woman owned business.”

Sonya Brownlee, owner of Sonya Marie’s THIK Swimwear and Sonya Marie’s Eyelashes to Please

Photo courtesy of Sonya Brownlee

“A crown is on my head, and it’s standing tall, and I can do whatever I want to do, and anyone else can do whatever they would like to do. You just have to be focused, and you have to know what you want. And you have to have a passion for it.”




Monica Bean, owner of The Core NatYOUral

“To be a voice and to be heard amongst my peers and in my community – these to me to be considered as a personal spotlight or also as a person of color – really means that much more, just our strength and our voice and making sure that we’re able to function and break down those barriers. And even if I’m able to be a bridge to bridge any type of gap, we’re presented.”

Ashley Shaw, owner of Intuitively Now

Photo courtesy of Ashley Shaw

“I was actually raised with my mother being a business owner herself … And with that being said, always kind of being surrounded by a woman that was striving for more and wanting to kind of have her footing in the business world, it’s part of who I am.”




Kathy Thomas-Stagg, owner of T-Stagg Photography

Photo courtesy of Kathy Thomas-Stagg

“I live in such an amazingly supportive and informative community of women creatives, other entrepreneurs, who value raising women up and empowering them with information and opportunity, that it’s made this journey, while still difficult, rich with experience.”




Andrea Hunt, owner of the CU flower house

Photo courtesy of Andrea Hunt

“It is an incredible time to be alive and a woman. We are, somewhat smoothly, sailing down the path that was paved for us by courageous and driven women. We are so lucky to have these opportunities because of their tenacity and perseverance. I honestly have not run into any obstacles that I could not overcome or accomplish; I know it that wasn’t always the case.”







Jessica Nemecz, co-owner of Two Roads Wellness Clinic

Photo courtesy of Jessica Nemecez

“I do think women look at business probably differently in a lot of aspects and that may be different for every woman, bringing in their unique diversity. For me, that’s bringing in a lot of nurturing and putting people first.”






Laura Edwards, owner and founder of Cultivate Illinois

Photo courtesy of Laura Edwards

“Women can tend to have a lot of things going against us in society. So to be a successful woman-owned business is pretty powerful, like that is pretty cool.”






Kennyethia Robicheaux, owner and founder of KL Jewelry and Accessories

Photo courtesy of Kennyethia Robicheaux

“I pride myself on being a women’s business owner, especially, I’m African American on top of this, so I’m proud of that aspect of it and knowing that I’m able to do something to pass down to my kids, to pass down to my daughter.”






Kate Wilken, owner and founder of Apricity Ink

Photo courtesy of Kate Wilken

“I have three kids, two of which are girls, and they’re five and seven, and they watch me all the time. I never realized how much they’re watching, but they are. And they’re watching me kind of navigate this world of being a business owner, and they’re really curious about it. And I love talking to them about what it means to own a business, to show them that they can try something and fail, and that’s OK.”






Jennifer Imig Huffman, owner and founder of The ABLE Center

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Imig Huffman

“Our daughter now is almost 11, and she, all of her life, has known me as a business woman and neuropsychologist that people and kids come to, and I think about what this means for her. And I just think it gives her the view that really anything is possible – I’m hoping that’s the view that she has –  that anything she sets her mind to, irregardless of gender, she can do.”





Debbie Skaggs, owner and founder of Angel Paws Grooming and Pet Sitting

Photo courtesy of Debbie Skaggs

“I’ve had a few setbacks, but I am a strong, independent woman. If I had something bad happen, like a bad review, I tried to contact the client about what we did wrong, but some people you  just cannot please. And, I just kept on persevering, like, didn’t ever give up.”






Cynthia Bruno and Kelly O’Neill, Miss Market and Girls Go For It founders

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Bruno

“We want everything we do in our business to be elevating women, business owners and leaders in their businesses. We want to open the doors and hold them open for additional women to come through. And so, you know, when I think about what it means to be a woman business owner, what it means to me is to not only fight for my own goals but to fight for the goals of other people too.” – Cynthia Bruno

“It should be easier for all women, or anyone who wants to help support women to shop women-owned, women-run, women-founded (businesses) with ease, and right now, it’s so difficult to do that in your everyday experience, and so I know that that’s why we need to keep doing what we’re doing to make that more simple and simplified and accessible, make it much more accessible for everyone.” – Kelly O’Neill

Whitney Hudspath, owner and founder of WhitneyNicole Creations

Photo courtesy of Whitney Hudspath

“I have researched and done all this stuff by myself on top of being a mom and trying to balance that and everything that my kids have gone on, and I work at school during the day too. And I’m here for these kids and my teacher friends too. Honestly, sometimes I get kind of overwhelmed by it, but at the same time I am so strong.”






Talisha Dorsey, owner of Tally’s Kloset and Artistic Hair Salon

“I use my business to kind of broadcast other women’s businesses once a year at the Working Women’s Gala. That’s what it is; Tally’s Kloset taking our spotlight in the community and trying to shine it on other businesses like ours, or, some of them are different just women-owned.”

Ashley Miller, owner of The Red Barn Home Team and business coach at MAPS Coaching

Photo courtesy of Ashley Miller

“I wanted to create opportunities, specifically for other working moms to recognize that they can come in and have their own business within my business … and just to help demonstrate to working moms that you don’t have to choose between having a really big business and being a really great mom.”







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