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HOLLADAY — Four years ago, Lydia Martinez, 38, had just taken a huge leap of faith into becoming her own boss after giving up what she thought was her dream job.
"I had a career and I planned on being there for a long time," the owner of Salt Lake-based Elle Marketing and Events explained. "I thought I had been looking toward that promotion for years and suddenly when it was handed to me, I just felt sick. It felt wrong."
Upon consulting with her husband, she decided to launch her own business.
"It was one of those pivotal moments in my life when I turned and walked away from something that I thought I wanted" to pursue her ultimate desire to start her own company. Four years later she said, "every single day" she knows it was the right decision.
Martinez was among 150 women at the fourth annual Women’s Entrepreneurial Conference hosted by Women’s Business Center of Utah and Utah Women’s Networking Group at Holladay's City Hall on Wednesday. The one-day conference, presented in conjunction with Utah’s Own included breakout sessions and a pitching competition.
She said it was about three months after becoming a new businesswoman that she attended the inaugural event that was developed to offer female entrepreneurs exposure to potential resources that could help them become successful.
"All of us need to learn how to run businesses better," said Ann Marie Wallace, state director for the Women's Business Center of Utah. "Some need to know how to start businesses, while others need to know how to grow them. Women like to learn, but we find they like to learn together."
She said hosting an event that brings women from across the state is an opportunity to become educated and to connect with other like-minded businesswomen.
In Utah, there are approximately 84,000 female-controlled businesses and the Beehive State tied (with Texas) for No. 2 in the U.S. in economic clout, according to the 2018 American Express State of Women-owned Businesses Report. Economic clout is defined as the growth in the number of firms and growth in employment and revenues.
Wallace said this year, the conference focused on how social media can be used to expand a new business. Attendees also competed for over $19,000 in grants, she said.
The event was designed to help women develop skills, access resources and build relationships in order to run more scalable and profitable businesses, a news release stated. All profit from the annual conference funds grants the following year, explained Karin Palle, executive director of Utah Women’s Networking Group.
The competition was based on a three-minute pitch from each participant who would describe their proposed use of funds and potential growth possibilities. A total of 25 grants ranging from $250 to $5,000 were awarded to 12 quarterfinalists, seven semifinalist and five finalists, she said.
Because grant funding for women-run businesses is generally less available, having access to even smaller amounts of free money can be just the thing that can help new startups find their way to success, she said.
"These grants have no strings attached," Palle said. "All we ask is that these women grow their businesses. They use the money and invest it in their business."
She noted that one previous grant recipients used the money to help grow her startup as a way to help preserve her family's farming enterprise. Kara Lewis, 39, used a grant to create Glen Ray's Corn Maze — a fall farm festival located in Spanish Fork that includes various agriculture-related activities geared toward families.
After moving back to the area from Nevada a year-and-a-half ago, she wanted to help her father save the family business that had been around for over 100 years and five generations.
"My dad has had a considerable amount of stress having the thought of having to sell the family farm to development," she explained. "I went to him and said, 'What can I do to help you out?' He said just help me make some more money."
They came up with the idea for the corn maze (named in honor of her grandfather). Last fall, the corn maze produced more than $100,000 in revenue in just six weeks, she said.
"We're just trying to keep the farm alive for a few more generations and also provide a place for families to come to bring their children and grandchildren to experience the farm life," Lewis said.