Successful Arizona entrepreneurs share the same starting point

Perseverance, diligence, caffeine….

These are the mantras of female entrepreneurs in Arizona as they fight their way to the top. Loans are still harder to come by. Profits still lag behind their male counterparts.

But that has not stopped them from being a formidable fortress for Arizona’s gross domestic product (GDP). Women-owned businesses pump billions of dollars into the state’s economy every year, according to a study of U.S. Census Data and GDP.

Many of the state’s greatest female success stories started with a hand up from one of the federal Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Women’s Business Centers that are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. The centers were created out of federal legislation designed to assist women in starting and growing small businesses to “level the playing field.”

The women’s centers give women a lift up in ways that would not be possible otherwise, said Robert Blaney, SBA District Director for Arizona. The SBA provides loans, education, mentoring, networking, financial counseling and other services. This month, the SBA also is celebrating the contributions of women entrepreneurs during National Women’s Small Business Month.

Here are a few Arizona entrepreneurs that started with a hand up from the SBA and now head multi-million dollar corporations or are on their way:

Alicia Hernandez, DAP construction, Phoenix Hernandez started DAP in 2009 with a visit to an SBA center. She learned bookkeeping, how to use government tracking portals and how to go after government contracts. Her first construction projects were small renovations and swimming pools. Today, she fields major government and commercial contracts and has done projects for Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, Luke Air Force Base, Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Grand Canyon National Park, and Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Last week, her company received the national Minority Construction Firm of the Year award for outstanding achievement from the United States Department of Commerce.

Hernandez, a former Army officer who earned her Airborne Wings and the Bronze Star Medal during the Persian Gulf War, says that when it comes to business, she is “driven and disciplined.”

“You do whatever it takes to get things done,” said Hernandez, who has a master’s degree in architecture, is highly licensed in her field, and is a Six Sigma green belt.

Stacy Gutierrez, CEO, Nicklaus Engineering, Yuma An environmental engineer, Gutierrez, started working for Nicklaus in 1996 out of college. At the time, the company did not do environmental engineering. Today, the multi-million dollar corporation does civil, environmental, and geotechnical engineering. Most of its work involves major government contracts in the Southwest including projects for the San Luis Port of Entry, U.S. Customs Border Protection Air Marine Hangar Complex, Yuma International Airport and the Yuma Proving Grounds.

Mary Darling, founder and CEO, Darling Geomatics, Tucson Darling moved her business forward with financial planning help from the SBA and other programs and was able to evolve her business into a successful 3D data collection service for pre-planning, verification and monitoring of physical assets. It uses aerial imaging and ground-based scanning to capture millions of measurable data points on every detail to deliver a needed format.

Cherylanne DeVita, President and CEO, DeVita International, Inc., Phoenix DeVita established her vegan skin care company in 1998. Today it is a global company that offers over 100 different vegan certified skin care products including Absolute Minerals and a vegan skin care line for babies and toddlers. Her products are available at over 1500 natural retail stores and online. DeVita, who was a pioneer in paraben-free skincare and aloe vera technology, is on the Arizona District Export Council.

Blaney, who has watched hundreds of women come through the SBA centers, said the most successful women are those who remain positive and persevere.  

“One of the things women entrepreneurs have to do besides cracking the glass ceiling is they also have to get off the sticky floor, meaning people don’t necessarily cut them a break,” Blaney said.

Victoria Harker

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