Women of Enterprise

Meet four entrepreneurial women who have stepped up to start businesses.

BY May 26, 2015


For many women, entrepreneurial traits are a birthright—an innate ability to multitask, network and adapt. But even though women’s clout in big business is rising (witness Marissa Mayer and Mary T. Barra), ownership remains a man’s game.

Men hold two-thirds of the nation’s privately held firms. But that picture is changing. Spurred in part by recession-imposed layoffs, more women are venturing out on their own. Women-owned firms grew at one and a half times the national average between 1997 and 2014, according to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Business Report by American Express OPEN, the company’s small-business credit division.

Their overall clout, however, remains tempered. Nearly a third of women-owned businesses had no employees aside from the owner, herself; 56 percent had between one and five employees; just 1 percent had more than 50, according to a 2014 report by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

That’s certainly what Sharon Brotherton, president of the Southwest Florida chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, sees in Southwest Florida: a lot of women starting businesses out of their homes or becoming independent distributors. That’s largely due to one thing: money.

“It really falls back on access to capital and finding capital,” says Brotherton, who started her own firm, ShaBro Alternative Office Solutions, seven years ago after she was laid off.

Southwest Florida organizations are rallying behind female entrepreneurs, from new business loans offered by the Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida to an Entrepreneurial Spirit program at the nonprofit Dress for Success to the counseling provided at Florida Gulfcoast University’s Small Business Development Center. 

Meet the founders of three women-owned businesses who capture all of these trends: Their firms are small, self-funded and in two cases spurred by a dearth of job options. The women’s industries are vastly different, but a common theme runs through their stories. Each is consumed with her clients, seeing her businesses not only as a means of self-support but as a way of helping others. 


Trisha L. Ryan, P.A.

General practice attorney

Meet Trisha Ryan somewhere around age 30: high-school-educated, divorced, mother of two, working 60-odd hours a week managing an Arby’s in Bonita Springs, barely making ends meet.

“I was lazy,” she says of her high-school self. “I did what I had to do to get by.”

Meet Trisha Ryan today: practicing attorney, law firm founder, growing force in Southwest Florida’s business and legal community.

“I just came to the realization that no one’s going to help me get out of where I am except me,” says Ryan, who lives in Fort Myers.

Here’s the quick version of her journey: She enrolled in Hodges University and earned an associate’s degree in paralegal studies; landed a job; got a bachelor’s degree in legal studies; got another legal job; and then realized…

“I wasn’t going to be happy just preparing documents for someone else to sign. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. That’s when I started making preparations to attend law school.”

Keep in mind, she is working and raising children throughout all of her schooling, with the support of her family and her now-husband, Robert. Ryan enrolled in Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville and transferred to Ave Maria School of Law when it moved to North Naples.

“I passed the bar and was finally admitted, but at that point, the firms locally are looking for two types of people—they are looking for someone right out of law school with absolutely no legal experience … or they wanted somebody who had been practicing five-plus years and has a client base that they can bring with them.

“I could continue being an assistant at that point, or start my own firm, and that’s what I did.”

She practices general law and is her firm’s only employee. She likes it that way.

“The key to what I am doing right now is personal service to my clients. When my clients call, I am the one who answers the phone. I’m the one who prepares the work they need done. … I’m the one who is going to answer the question personally—whether they call me, email me, text me. It doesn’t matter.”

Ryan keeps her caseload low and fees reasonable. “I don’t have 20 years of experience, so I don’t charge a fee like someone who has 20 years of experience,” she explains.

But what she’s really doing is making legal services accessible. “I did my own divorce, and without having the education I really needed at the time and the knowledge that an attorney would have, I didn’t do myself any favors. I ended up in a bad situation,” she explains. “If you need legal services, you deserve legal services, you are entitled to legal services. Just because you can’t pay $400 an hour doesn’t mean you should go without an attorney. That’s my philosophy.”

Ryan is also a spokeswoman for Dress for Success, the organization that had offered her business attire when she was seeking her first paralegal job.

“I’ll do whatever I can do to help encourage others,” she says.


Sue Goby and Abbe Drossner

Naples Senior Moving

It’s moving day, and Sue Goby and Abbe Drossner are surrounded by cardboard boxes. Not their own, but those of a retired Bonita resident who had decided to downsize following her husband’s death.

“OK, I’m going to pack these lamps in there,” Drossner announces, assembling a fresh box. The moving truck would arrive the next day. Drossner and Goby, along with two other women, moved efficiently throughout the 4,400-square-foot house.

The two are the force behind Naples Senior Moving, now an eight-person company that takes clients from the sometimes emotionally charged process of sorting and offloading possessions to settling into their new homes.

Goby had sold her tax accounting business in 2008 and was anxious to get back to work.

“I had nothing to do,” Goby says. “I couldn’t find a job. First of all, I’m old, and second of all, there are no jobs. So create your own.”

While preparing taxes, she had developed an affinity for older people, women especially. “You know, their husbands would pass away and in a certain demographic group and certain age group, many of them have never even written a check.”

She watched these older clients downsize or transition into assisted living and imagined the assistance they might require.

“I had this nugget of an idea—it’s not an original thought, believe me—but I wanted a business partner,” Goby says. She approached Drossner, whom she had met during a real estate transaction. Drossner recognized the potential right away. For the first year, the duo did little but try to drum up business. It wasn’t easy; few understood the extent of their services and what distinguished them from other movers.

For their clients, Goby and Drossner have: hauled stuff into attics; arranged home stagings and hired cleaning services; hung pictures; bought bed linens when the homeowner hasn’t had the time—or capacity—to shop for her downsized quarters; dug address books and other must-have-right-now items out of moving boxes; packed a house on a day’s notice because a doctor ordered an immediate move. 

They are psychologists, counselors, family mediators. When working with memory-impaired clients, Goby and Drossner study everything from homeowners’ wardrobes to their interior décor to figure out color preferences, style and the elements that will make their new places feel like home. “If she has been looking at that picture in her living room for the past five years, then that picture is going—whether her daughter-in-law thinks it’s ugly or not,” Goby says.

They set up the coffee table of one client—a former accountant—with a calculator and tax books; they insisted the oversized desk of another go to assisted living. It was clear she spent lots of time at it, fastidiously filing receipts.

Goby and Drossner’s eyes for detail are meticulous: They’ll photograph desktops and drawers, refrigerator shelves and cabinetry so the unpacked new place is ordered as close to the old one as possible. That’s critical for clients with memory or vision problems.

“Anything you can do to make it homey and familiar,” Drossner says.

The two are driven by this overarching philosophy: “We want to treat people as if they are our own parents,” Goby says.


Sharon DeLaura

Spa by Sharon M.

One of Sharon DeLaura’s earliest and most cherished memories was watching her mother get ready for the day.

“She had everything beautiful—the perfumes and the makeup and the clothes and the lingerie—and I used to sit there, fascinated.”

DeLaura grew up and pursued all things feminine and beautiful. She studied French and art history, trained as an aesthetician in Switzerland, lived briefly in Paris, returned to Chicago and started working as a freelance makeup artist.

Her work grabbed attention, including the eye of Vincent Longo, the makeup artist for Sarah Jessica Parker, who would hire her to fly to Beverly Hills to assist with big events.

DeLaura later landed a position as a makeup artist for the Oprah Winfrey Show.

 “I didn’t do Oprah’s makeup, myself, but I did do the people on her show. I worked with some really fun people—Barbara Walters, Mike Myers, Christy Turlington,” DeLaura recalls.

She also worked with high-end magazines, modeling agencies and the first wave of reality TV shows. After the death of her mother in 2003, DeLaura decided to move to Naples, a frequent meet-up spot for her, her sisters and friends.

It’s hard to go from well-known professional to unknown newcomer. DeLaura took on jobs big and small—at Marissa Collections, Juicy Couture, and as the aesthetic trainer for a company introducing a European skincare line to Nordstrom.

What propelled her, though, was a stint with Naples plastic surgeon Dr. Mark Prysi, who contracted with her to perform facials. The partnership introduced her to a clientele eager for high-end skin care.

DeLaura and Prysi ended their formal relationship when the recession hit and the practice had to limit its hours (DeLaura had after-hours clients she wanted to accommodate).

“I just thought maybe it was time to go on my own, and it really, really worked,” DeLaura says. “I knew it would be hard, but I had clients say off the cuff, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about opening a business? We would follow you in a heartbeat.’”

They did. DeLaura opened her Spa by Sharon M. (her maiden name is McGuigan) in 2009.

“Right now, I’m already booked into May,” said DeLaura back in March. She offers dermaplaning, medical and organic facials, peels, micro-needling, makeup applications and lessons, and Prysi serves as her medical director.

The day spa market in Naples is crowded, but DeLaura says she was an early entrant in the “medical spa” genre, and her makeup artistry set her apart. So does her customer service.

“Could I be making double the money and have double the clients if I did everyone in an hour? Absolutely, but then it’s not the same catered service,” says DeLaura, who spends up to 90 minutes on a facial. “My clients text me, they email me, they call me: ‘Sharon, what do you think of this? Should I go to this dermatologist?’ I provide a concierge-like service, and it’s because I do care about my clients.”

DeLaura could become even better-known: She was part of the “sizzle reel” for Paradise Coast Wives, a reality show that producer ITZ Studios is shopping to the networks.

She has big plans for her one-woman shop. DeLaura hopes to hire an aesthetician and office assistant and intends to start up or buy into a makeup line.

“Everything is exciting about it,” DeLaura says. “I have a such a passion for it. I absolutely love what I do.”


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