MIAMI - Enthusiastic and bleary-eyed, Margo Wolfe declares, "I haven't slept much in two weeks, and I'm not even tired anymore."
Shaking off exhaustion, she readies her TCBY frozen yogurt store for the University of Miami students who have been streaming in from the nearby campus since the store opened earlier this month. At the same time, she takes a contractor call about a second location she plans to open next month.
Only 24, Wolfe said, "I love the idea of being an entrepreneur."
The rewards for men that go into business are obvious: bigger challenges, higher income potential and the thrill of ownership. The reasons women go into business aren't as clear-cut.
The assumption is that many women open a business so they can manage their own schedule, especially when they have children at home. But ask women like Wolfe, and they have a completely different reason for choosing the riskier path of starting a business over joining the corporate world: They hate the idea of having a boss.
Kim Stone sees a new energy around the idea of entrepreneurship and understands it. She had only one boss. It was her last. For 19 years, she has operated her own Miami shoe store, Shoes to You. "I like the independence," she said. "I love selling shoes to women, and they know I love what I do."
Of course, independence and stamina require grit. Stone persevered during the recession by slimming inventory and focusing on customer service. She has had to learn how to become a boss, how to make the store hours work with her personal life, and how to keep customers coming back.
"You can't look at someone else and copy what they are doing," she says. "You have to find out who you are and what you need to run a business."
For more women, the learning process increasingly holds allure. Even in a tough environment, women have been willing to forego a stable income to start a business and grow it. As of 2011, there are more than 8.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue. During the last five years, the number of women-owned firms increased by 50 percent - a rate of 1 ½ times the national average, according to American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Business, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. "I think entrepreneurship is the next professional frontier for women," said Julie Weeks, American Express OPEN Research Advisor on Women's Business Issues and author of the report.
Weeks says all the components are in place: Women are getting more advanced degrees, have more role models than in prior decades and are educated to look at entrepreneurship as a career. They are starting businesses because they see a need in the marketplace or have a dream, rather than out of necessity, and they are often doing it as a full-time endeavor, rather than on the side while raising kids. Janice Gonzalez, an ad agency owner and immediate past president of the Women's Chamber of Commerce of Miami-Dade County, said another fact is at play, too - the opportunity that technology presents.
"If you are in the service industry, you can eliminate a physical office. That opens opportunities for women to see a quicker return," she said.
To survive as your own boss, Gonzalez added that it takes a "cowboy mentality," or "a certain amount of guts and optimism and not being afraid of failing."
Of course, owning a business is not without its downsides - from financial pressure to long hours to managing employees. Weeks' research has found there is no difference between women and men in business closure rates. Half of all businesses close within five years.