Contest inspires million dollar business

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You've heard of "Take our Daughters to Work Day;" but have you heard the woman behind it, Nell Merlino, now wants to take your business revenue to the million-dollar range?

"There are 10.5 million women in business, but only 243,000 who have hit a million," said Nell Merlino, author, "Stepping out of Line."

One of them is Lee Gilbert of Aptos, founder and CEO of CycleAware - a company that designs and makes bike-safety accessories like a rearview mirror that attaches to helmets sold at a thousand stores world-wide, including Mike's Bikes in San Francisco.

Last year, Lee was one of the winners of Merlino's contest, called "Make Mine a Million," partly sponsored by San Jose's Cisco Systems. The race is recruiting new contestants right now - female business owners who want to help each other realize their financial dreams.

"More than anything - a community of other women business owners - who had my back and I had theirs. So if they have a question - I'm right there to help them," Lee Gilbert, CEO, CycleAware.

Merlino, says once you sign up online, experts will help you through online seminars, national workshops and local get-togethers; tackling topics like product focus, finding target markets, cash flow and loans. This year, for the first time, the winner will receive $100,000.

Lee says last year, everyone won, even the women who didn't hit the million-dollar revenue goal.

"On average we showed 40 percent growth - I mean just amazing statistics," said Gilbert.

Despite this economy, Merlino says it's actually a great time to start a business - if you need to hire, there's a large pool of skilled workers. And if you need to lease office space, well, there's plenty available.

"One of the biggest mistakes women make is continuing to work by themselves. They fear hiring people because they see it as an expense and don't recognize if you hire people, you get the opportunity to make more money," said Merlino.

"I'm Esther, I design a line of luxury Asian-inspired apparel called Far East Living," said Esther Shih, Palo Alto designer.

Shih just entered the race; Merlino's advice to her is to think beyond her boutique, where sales have dipped in these tough times.

"She really has to look at her market and figure out where she can be more aggressive in seeking out customers, as opposed to waiting for them to come to her," said Merlino.

Some entry requirements:

  • The business must be at least half owned by a woman or women
  • There's a $100 entry fee
  • The sign-up deadline is June 30th

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