Maria Gandara always expected to spend her days surrounded by children. The mother of five is a former special education teacher, but she never expected to own a "school" in her Humboldt Park home.
"We decided to open our home daycare after I had a child with special needs," she said.
The family still needed money. She cleaned offices for a while at night. Then, she decided to use what she knew. Now, with the help of her mother and sometimes her husband, she enrolls up to 16 kids.
Gandara says she doesn't miss her days in the classroom.
"My salary is more than doubled, but also I'm able to spend some very precious time with my boys. My daughters are able to go to a wonderful Catholic school, and I'm able to be here and have that flexibility that I never thought I could have," she said.
Anika Byrley, of Precision Piano Services, banks on flexibility to keep her business afloat.
"The times that I make my appointments kind of circulate around what my child's schedule is," she said.
The classically trained musician wanted to be with her daughter, Orla, full-time after giving birth 21 months ago. She started booking a few clients here and there, tuning and servicing their pianos.
Byrley often takes her daughter with her on appointments. Her company has grown such that, last month, her husband quit his job to join her in the business.
"Either he's home with the daughter some days, or he goes out and does some of the work as well," Byrley said. "Our business provides our main source of income."
Data released in September 2008 shows Byrley and Gandara are part of a growing trend. Women now own 40 percent of all businesses in the U.S. That percent has increased from 28 percent in 2002.
Hedy Ratner, co-president of the Women's Business Development Center, says many of those businesses are started as a way for women to balance work and family.
"This is a way for them to utilize their passion, their motivation, experience, and their commitment to their families," Ratner said.
Kairos Consulting Worldwide's Lynn Sutton never expected to own a business or to become a stay-at-home mom until she was downsized from her job as an industrial engineer. A light bulb came on for the mother of three boys during the unplanned time off.
"It was hard for me to admit that my family, my kids especially, needed me much more than I had allowed myself to believe when I was in corporate," she said.
Sutton's husband converted space above the garage of their West Side home for her to use as an office, so she's always close by.
"It helps me balance because, here, I can work, and whenever the school calls, I'm closer. So, I can get them," said Sutton.
Sutton's consulting firm shows other companies how to streamline, how to do more while spending less.
"This year, we've actually entered into the international space. We got our first international client and our first government contract. Our revenues are now at $1.5 million," Sutton said.
Money like that is not half bad for a stay-at-home mom.
On another note, women of color own approximately 26 percent of all businesses and are the fastest-growing group of new entrepreneurs.
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