When Hetty Irmer arrived in the District in 2003 as a newly minted therapist, she found a community still grappling with the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

One of her first clients was a single mother of three who had lost her husband, an electrician who had been working on a construction project in the Pentagon. The client, whom she declined to name because of doctor-patient confidentiality, was having trouble building a new life.

“I met her a year and a half after it happened and she was really grappling with the reality of being a single mother and the challenges of that,” Irmer said.

It took the better part of a year, but Irmer’s client was able to get her children settled, find a house and a job.

Irmer’s secret? Determination.

“One time she was really mad at me for some reason, and she stormed out of the office,” Irmer said. “So I followed her down into her car and said, ‘I know you’re walking away from me, but I’m not going to leave you. I’m here for you.’ ”

After a decade in similar jobs around the District, Irmer is going off on her own.

For the past three years, she has been the owner and sole employee of Four Corners Counseling, a Silver Spring-based counseling practice targeting what she calls “thinking women,” clients with the potential for successful careers who find themselves held back by depression, anxiety or a deep-seeded confusion.

That first client “was really my first ‘thinking woman.’ She was really intelligent and driven, but she was overcome by her emotions,” Irmer said.

Irmer wants to expand her reach. She is getting ready to hire her first two employees to lighten the administrative load, and she just won a $5,000 prize to help her along.

The prize was the largest in an annual business-plan competition sponsored by the Maryland Women’s Business Center and Rockville Economic Development. Twenty-nine volunteer judges picked Irmer’s clinic out of a pool of 41 local companies to receive the grand prize.

Five other local businesses also won cash prizes in payouts that totaled $13,000:

JR BioTek

The Landover-based company trains and supplies scientists and other biotechnology professionals in sub-Saharan Africa. The company won $1,000 and a year of free office space from Intelligent Office, a company that rents office space to small businesses.

St8YourCase

The online service connects lawyers with potential clients through an online platform. Potential clients describe their case through an online questionnaire, and a pool of attorneys sifts through applications to pick the best fit. St8YourCase won $2,500.

Awarables

The start-up in Calverton, Md., uses wireless sensors to gather data on patients’ sleep patterns. The company won $2,500.

Engineering Mindz

The Greenbelt-based, after-school program offers science, technology and mathematics experiences for young children. The company won $1,000.

Golden Girls Network

Operated from founder Bonnie Moore’s house in Bowie, Golden Girls Network is trying to do away with traditional nursing homes in favor of a communal living space. The company won $1,000.