AML in Print




Women Wonders
Launching Unique Businesses



By Erika Mallman
September 1999

We've always known California was progressive. It's ranked # 1 in the country in the number of women owned businesses, the number of female employees in those operations, and the sales they've generated. Since so many California women own their own companies, the sky, not the glass ceiling is the limit.

You might be surprised to see how far some entrepreneurs will go to see their visions through to the end.; One woman pulls in six figures by crawling around clients' homes to find unsafe places where babies might play. Another earns a living capturing spiders and insects and taking them around to schools teaching students which ones to avoid. Still another founded a technology company to gather ideas for female friendly products.

So who are some of these women--- particularly those entrepreneurial souls who found a niche not previously occupied, and forged ahead with a lot of smarts?

Women of mystery Janet Rudolph, for one, is the person behind those corporate team- building dinner theater events. Her customized audience participation whodunit business, "murder on the menu", has been up and running for 16 years, Her clients include such names as Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Hitachi, Merck, Pacific Bell and TCI.

How did Rudolph get started? Simple: she's always loved mystery. Besides founding Mystery Readers Journal in the 70's, she has also taught mystery fiction classes and is on the board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America. So in the early 80's when a partnership ventured in Mystery Diner Theater failed, Rudolph picked up the reins and carried on solo.

Today, Rudolph writes the script for each performance, personally tailoring it to the company by using names of actual employees and industry jargon.

Speaking of names breathes there a soul who has never struggled with seating people neither socially nor professionally. Civic leader Judy Wilbur: a seating tool. "Instead of just drawing a circle around a mayonnaise jar and writing in names," she explains, "we supply move able stickers so you can try out a few seating arrangements and change them as people call at the last minute." Her stickers are blue for boys and pink for girls, so one can graphically visually the sea of humanity.

Wilbur got the idea for the sticker kits from the volume of seating arrangements she was responsible for. For example, her husband Brayton Wilbur was head of the San Francisco Symphony for eight years and she seated symphony diner and Black and White Ball.

Wilbur sells the kits mostly by word of mouth although they're also available though local stationery stores and wedding consultants. Many San Franciscans will know where the last batch went: Judy Wilbur is chair of the project to move the Asian Art Museum to the Civic Center, and recently, hundreds of people were seated at the ground breaking, courtesy of Wilbur's business,"Seated Affairs".

She also creates name pins, and alternative to the usual "Hello my name is", stickers. The pins spell out the bearer's name in rhinestones!

Wilbur's pins, of course, should only be worn on the right shoulder. That comes from Lisa Mirza Grotts, former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco, and now a private consultant in etiquette and protocol. "Most people shake hands with their right hand," she explains, "So their eyes normally move up to the right shoulder. I started my business because I found a big need-not so much for protocol, which is a set of traditional rules that doesn't change, but for etiquette-a set of gracious behavior rules that constantly evolve and change to fit the times."

"In my travels and experience" she goes on, "I kept running into questions that had no historical reference. For instance, is it proper to thank a host or hostess by e-mail? (No, spend the time to write a note). Should a woman in business wait for a man to extend his hand? (No.) What if a friend asks you to donate to a good cause you don't particularly care about? (Unless you are strapped, donate. Chances are you'll soon be hitting up your friend for you own cause.)"

Lisa works with individuals as well as Silicon Valley corporations and says business is "far exceeding" her expectations.

An equally successful dynamo, Dianne Borsmi Bure spent 25 years building her own business, helping companies find office staff. She went from zero dollars in sales to $70 million.

"When I sold my business last year," she says, "I fell into working with various entrepreneurs who wanted to start their own companies. I found a definite niche that needed filling-so I started "Entrepreneur Mentors" in April. Now we have a whole staff of mentors who advise would be entrepreneurs and help the, make predictable miracles."

Hairmaker Heide Rossbach is another woman who saw a need and answered it. Several years ago, she realized that no one made attractive headwear for women in chemotherapy, or for those suffering hair loss from aloperis aresia. A light bulb clicked in her head, and she created a new line called the "Comfort Zone" specifically to meet such needs. (Rossbach's fashions are available at "Friend to Friend", a patients store at UCSF/Mt Zion Hospital on Sutter Street.)

Now then, what do you do when your great grandmother's china doll develops a crack in her lovely porcelain cheek? You consult Diana Preddy of "Dolly's New Life," a business specializing in the repair, restoration and photography of dolls. Preddy recalls that even when she was a child, neighbors would give her their dolls to fix because they knew she was a doll person.

Preddy developed the idea of starting a repair business about five years ago, when she pulled out dolls that had been in storage for 20 years to create a Christmas tree. Their long journey had left them musty and dirty. As Preddy lovingly attended to each doll, she realized she could provide this service to others.

Today, her business is thriving - and she's delighted to have "saved" so many treasures of both parents and children.

Speaking of children, a few years ago, attorney Marion Downs loved her two-year-old son's artwork so much, she went to her local copy store to make holiday cards out of it. "It was expensive and they cut the picture wrong" says Downs. I realized "hey I could do this more professionally". Out of this experience sprang her business, "Your Kid the Artist". Downs acts as liaison between charities and cooperation's, using children's paintings in borders she designs. (Corporations sometimes send out her cards to raise money for charities.) She enjoys her work so much, she is even branching out into a new sideline. "Your Pet the Artist". (Encourage Fido in his blue period)

It was children, who inspired enterprising Salinas Teacher Victoria Knight-McDowell. The young woman got so tired of catching colds from her second graders, she decided to develop and herbal product to help ward off germs. Her husband, Rider McDowell, invested in the project and the result was Airborne, a tube of cold fighting herbs. Today, their annual revenues approach $1 million.

You men should listen to us more!