Value Added: These three mompreneurs do circles around the mommy track

Thomas Heath
Reporter May 1, 2011

For two years I have been asking myself if I can take on the daily duties that accompany the adoption of another yellow Labrador retriever to replace the dog I lost in 2009.

My ambivalence about committing to daily dog walks, vet visits and the like seemed pretty selfish after interviewing several local “mompreneurs” for a Mother’s Day column.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade. View Archive

For a guy who believes “sacrifice” means cleaning up the dishes, I feel like an idiot after hearing the sacrifices these women make every day.

Take Liz Corah, the entrepreneur/owner of a successful dance and exercise business called Studio 310 in Rockville.

She’s 28, divorced, raising three kids younger than 8, and frequently works 12-hour weekdays and half the weekend. She also owns her own townhouse, drives a sport-utility vehicle and makes a six-figure income.

Corah has been on her own since 15.

Corah, whom I plan to write more about in the future, worked four jobs and saved $40,000 one year so she could rent space and establish 310, which was founded in 2007. Back in those early days, she spent $500 a week in child care for her two daughters (her son came later), not counting the babysitters she paid at night so she could run to teach evening dance classes.

“When I tell you I worked my tail off, I worked my tail off,” she said. “I started the day at 7 and was not done until 9 or 10 p.m. I never saw my two daughters.”

But, she adds, “I am doing exactly what I was meant to do.”

Corah took the long view, sacrificing the social life and everything else that goes with your 20s in order to establish security for herself and her children, and gain more time with her family.

“I think you get your 20s or your 40s,” she said. “And when I am in my 40s, my kids will all be out of the house, and I will be more financially secure and smarter and wise. Having children and being a mom makes me a better and stronger person.”

Jamie Ratner, 33, mother of two children, ages 2 and 3, and founder of Certifikid, an online coupon business catering to family activities, loves the freedom of owning her own business. But she just can’t get enough sleep.

“I feel like I want to be the best business and give the best service, and I want to be the best mom,” said the Bethesda mompreneur, who resigned her manager position at the District’s Williams & Connolly law firm in 2010 as her start-up took off. Her husband is a partner at another firm.

“I have been able to balance the two and specify certain days for kids and certain days for business,” Ratner said. “Because it’s my own business, I can make my own schedule,” which can include pushing a stroller, conducting a business call and jogging all at once.

“The lack of sleep is the hardest part. The kids are up by 5:30. When I put my daughter down for a nap, I do as much work as I can. Sometimes I play hide-and-seek with my kids, and I hide in a good spot so I can write a business e-mail on my BlackBerry. You have to be creative as a mom. Anytime a child is sleeping, I am doing work. ”

And making money. Certifikid is grossing up to $100,000 a month.

There’s Karen McElaney of Centreville, a co-founder of four-year-old CleverWraps, which makes see-through covers to protect electronic devices such as cellphones, e-readers and iPads.

“I have to make all sorts of compromises,” said McElaney, 51, who is married and quit a marketing job in her mid-20s to take care of her newborn son.

McElaney now has two boys, ages 21 and 18, and spends 12 hours a day on her business. She travels from two to five days, every few months.

She gave up greeting her sons as teenagers when they came home from school. She gave up attending sporting events such as basketball, football and lacrosse games. She couldn’t drive one son to the University of Georgia for a visit because work beckoned.

“After being a stay-at-home mom for so many years and having so much control over my time and dedicating myself to my kids,” she said, “it was a shock to me when the business began to take over my life.”

I asked Kathy Korman Frey, founder of the Hot Mommas Project and entrepreneur-in-residence at George Washington University’s School of Business, to make sense of this for me.

Frey, 39, married and the mother of two kids, has some business chops herself. She graduated from Harvard Business School and started a successful Washington consulting firm called Vision Forward. She eventually migrated to the academic sector, founding Hot Mommas as a way to promote dynamic women through online case studies. (Corah is one of Frey’s Hot Mommas.)

“These folks are pretty much the spitting image of most of the women who come to our Hot Mommas seminars,” Frey said. “They are overachievers who can do it all — and do.”

I’ll say. I have been in a dialogue of sorts with McElaney and Ratner for weeks, and both are very persistent, to say the least.

Frey commended Ratner and McElaney for their balancing acts. She also pointed out that Corah didn’t have a choice but to pursue her business because she was divorced.

“Having a life partner or spouse allows women to pursue a non-linear career path, which is the idea that you may have an offramp to your career at one time and an on-ramp at another time,” Frey said.

She said her life as a mom, wife, business owner and teacher “is much better than anything I imagined. I was dragged kicking and screaming to do it, but now, I feel quite victorious. I work faster, smarter, better, happier. What’s not to like?”

And now I have to go see about a Lab puppy.

Follow me on twitter at addedvalueth.

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