SecondAct Women, a small business network, undergoes its own second act due to COVID

The founders of SecondAct Women, a network of business women 40 and older, were adding members across the country and organizing events for female entrepreneurs when the pandemic forced the organization to stage its own second act.

Like most business people, Barbara Brooks and Guadalupe Hirt  shifted activities, such as conferences and workshops, from in-person to online. They recently debuted a virtual marketplace to support female business owners 40 and over. More than 60 female-owned businesses are featured on the site.

Brooks, SecondAct Women CEO, said the organization wants to support women who are trying to hold onto their companies “and just get through this time period.” Brooks and Hirt rolled out the site in time for the holidays.

“We just decided to be the place that they could provide their resources, their products, their services, all of that all bundled underneath #ShopWomenOwned 40 and 50-plus,” Brooks said.

Women in their 40s, 50s and up who embark on second careers have been some of the most prolific entrepreneurs, Brooks and Hirt said. A 2018 report by American Express said there were 1,821 new female-owned businesses a day between 2017 and 2018.

And nearly half of female business owners were between the ages of 45 and 65 and two thirds, 67%, were 45 or older.

The report attributed the rise in startups by women in part to what it called “necessity entrepreneurship,” when a person can’t find a job or a high-quality job and the only option is to start a business. Women of color started businesses at a higher rate out of necessity, the report said.

The pandemic has magnified challenges for female-owned businesses, a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce report said. A survey found that those businesses were more likely than those owned by men to report a significant decline in the health of their business since the pandemic started.

Hirt and Brooks, who worked together in the past in marketing and public relations, said they each ran into what they saw as age and sex discrimination when trying to resume their corporate careers or get funding for their businesses. They started SecondAct in July 2018 to address those issues and now have about 3,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. Business experts have offered their expertise to members and the organization is forming an advisory committee.

As furloughs, layoffs and unemployment continue, women are expected to launch micro-businesses, Hirt said. She and Brooks said they want to continue to offer women a place to get advice, share ideas and resources.

Danielle Atcheson was working for a Fortune 500 company when her drive to improve her health and fitness grew into a business aimed at the kind of person she used to be: a busy professional who didn’t make time to concentrate on diet and exercise. After a few years of planning and training, she left the corporate world to start One Degree Health.

“It didn’t happen overnight. It was a long progression,” said Atcheson, now a certified nutritionist and health coach.

The Denver woman figured she could always return to the corporate world, but enjoys being an entrepreneur. And while the coronavirus has affected her in-person health coaching, she is expanding her online services. She made her first sale on the SecondAct marketplace within about two hours of posting on the site.

“It’s a great way to get in front of my target audience for an extremely low cost. Plus, the women are just great. I’ve had my second act as well, so it’s really fun to see others who’ve joined the group going through changes,” Atcheson said.

Marie Oster is where Atcheson was at one point: in a job that provides a steady income and working a side gig that is a passion for her. Oster, who still works full time as a business development manager, turned her love of baking cookies into a business, One Hot Batch, in September.

“What I learned is that cookies are COVID-proof,” said Oster, who lives in Longmont.

Most of her products on the SecondAct marketplace were sold out after she got a big Christmas order. Oster has started thinking about renting space in a commercial kitchen, a necessary step if she wants to ship her cookies to other states.

“It’s been fun how it’s been taking off. I’m at an interesting point right now where I can either keep it pretty casual or I can just kind of go gangbusters and explode,” Oster said.

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