Debra Parks Root is a mother of invention.
After gaining 85 pounds while pregnant with her daughter Dakota, the lover of peanut butter vowed to trim the fat and calories in her favorite sandwich. Combining Internet research with cooking know-how, Root last year turned her culinary tinkering into a going concern. Sales of her reduced-fat peanut butter are projected to hit $200,000 this year, and Root has plans to take the "Peanut Better" brand nationwide.
So what's the best part about running Mrs. Malibu Foods Inc. out of her home in that beachfront community?
"Instead of coffee breaks, I get to take Dakota breaks," said Root, 33, who works with a tutor to home-school her karate-loving 6-year-old. "I like to call myself a 'mamapreneur.' "
Welcome to the new mommy track.
No longer content to juggle work and parenting on corporate America's terms, moms such as Root are fueling a new wave of home-based entrepreneurship that has moved well beyond the Tupperware parties of old. Armed with education, experience and maybe a little 401(k) money, these women are returning home to be closer to their children. In the process, they're redefining the nature of cottage industry and spawning a whole new subculture of Web sites, support groups and literature dedicated to entrepreneurial parents.
To be sure, traditional home work such as day care, crafts and sewing still abound. But experts say the combination of technology and professional experience is allowing more "mompreneurs" to take home-based employment to a new level.
"Parents, especially mothers . . . are seizing on technology to create innovative work opportunities at home," said Tom Miller, vice president of Cyber Dialogue, a New York-based research firm that tracks work-at-home trends. "It's almost like a new family-values agenda."
Recent statistics compiled by the Small Business Administration estimate there were 8.5 million women-owned businesses operating in the United States in 1997, an 89% increase over the last decade.
Experts point to a host of factors driving women to self-employment, including corporate downsizing, the glass ceiling or the chance to strike it rich like other red-blooded entrepreneurs.
Still, autonomy and family concerns rank high on nearly every survey, including a February report by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners. That survey cited women's frustration with the corporate work environment as a key reason for hitting the exits.
"They're looking for flexibility," said Bruce Rosenthal, spokesman for Silver Spring, Md.-based NFWBO. "For many, that means balancing work with family responsibility."
It also means launching the business from home, where the SBA estimates 60% of all women-owned businesses get their start.
Home-based businesses are nimble and frequently informal, making them tough to count. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report estimates that 4.1 million self-employed Americans were working at home in 1997, while a recent Cyber Dialogue survey puts the figure closer to 12.6 million--double the number from 1990.
What's clear, experts agree, is that women with young children make up a substantial portion of home-based entrepreneurs. Nearly 70% of self-employed women toiling at home in 1997 had children under the age of 18 living with them, according to the BLS report.
"Mompreneurs are everywhere," says Gladys Castro-Charmello, 35, owner of Unique Creations, a faux-finish and wall-sculpturing business she runs out of her Westchester home. "All you have to do is look around."
A registered nurse who started her home business to be closer to her two young sons, Castro-Charmello founded the Women Entrepreneurs Network two years ago after continually bumping into other mompreneurs at the park or the supermarket.
The L.A.-area networking organization now boasts a mailing list of 300, a Web site and a newsletter, as well as monthly business seminars to get working moms out of the house.
New Southern California WEN chapters are in the planning stages, and similar groups are proliferating nationwide, along with a slew of Internet sites and books on how to nurture kids and customers under the same roof.
Trend watchers say the latest wave of mompreneurs is more experienced and educated than their predecessors who made crafts and sewing synonymous with female home work. While those handicrafts remain popular, and many moms merely dabble in self-employment to help supplement the family income, experts say more women are coming in with the idea of making a long-term career from home.
"We're seeing a lot more million-dollar moms," said Ellen Parlapiano, co-author of a book on enterprising mothers. "They're professionals who are bringing their careers home with the help of technology . . . or they spotted a niche and are filling it."