Fortune:How This Program for Entrepreneurs Is Fostering Female Talent

 

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Women start more businesses than men, but are less likely to break the $1 million revenue mark.

For millennial entrepreneur Rita Gurevich, the collapse of a major financial institution spawned a startup.

Gurevich, who was working as an assistant vice president in messaging at Lehman Brothers when it went bankrupt in 2008, managed to turn her ill-timed experience at the bank into a burgeoning cyber-security business. Her firm, SPHERE Technology Solutions, has grown over 600% in the last four years by focusing on financial services and now is considering expansion into other industries.

Looking back at her tenure at Lehman, she recalls having an “aha moment” during the bank’s demise. “I was 24 at the time, I had a few pennies to my name, and I lost them all,” says Gurevich, whose business is based in Jersey City, NJ. “It was really, really scary. At the same time, I knew I had a job to do.”

This year, Gurevich, 32, got some training in her new endeavor through EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women program, which selects a group of high-achieving female entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada to mentor every year. It’s part educational opportunity, part networking opportunity. It gives participants access to advisers and lessons in leadership, scaling, and financing. This year, the women met for a two-day orientation session in late October in New York, and are meeting again this week at EY’s five-day “Strategic Growth Forum,” which brings together high-growth companies in Palm Springs, California.

EY started the program in 2008 with five women. Its overall goal is to help increase women’s rate of business success. In the U.S., women start businesses at 1.5 times the rate of men, but male-owned businesses are 3.5 times more likely than women-owned firms to break $1 million in revenue, according to data provided by EY. “Women and minorities both receive less funding than male entrepreneurs,” says EY Americas Chairman Steve Howe. More women are starting up businesses, but they need more help, he says. “They are not as readily attracting capital and resources,” he explains.

The EY initiative has sparked rapid growth for its participants. According to the Babson College Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, 2014 revenue for participating firms was 54% higher than before they joined the program.

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