A Chance to Prove My Worth

(FORTUNE Small Business) – Camille Young, 35 BaGua Juice

Jersey City (baguajuice.com)

I DIDN'T REALIZE IT AT THE TIME, but my mother inspired me to start my own business. She owns a spa in St. Louis, and in 1999 she asked me to help her expand it. I had earned a degree in electrical engineering from Howard University, worked as a project manager for Bain & Co., and gone to New York University's Stern School to get my MBA. Helping her do strategic planning and execute details of her expansion and watching the project come to completion gave me the desire to work on something from beginning to end.

My urge to start a business only increased as I worked at consulting firms. You go through a project with an entire team of people who work extremely hard to make it a success. But all of the acknowledgment seems to go to those who schmooze the most. I think that can be a problem for women especially; we don't want to be seen as complaining or making trouble. I thought that running my own business would give me the opportunity to live or die on my merits.

I came up with the idea for BaGua in 2003. I was on a one-week "cleanse" in Fiji, in which I ate raw foods and focused on my body and health. When I got back home to Jersey City, I wanted to keep that healthy lifestyle, but I had to go to Manhattan to find organic food. It was annoying that Jersey City didn't even have a juice bar. Then I started thinking, Why don't I open one?

It took six weeks and cost about $200,000 to start up. I used my savings, pulled from my 401(k), and sold some stocks. I got a small-business loan from a bank and a community-lending loan from Jersey City's economic development group. I opened in October 2005.

BaGua's rewards aren't financial. The two stores brought in less than $200,000 last year, so I won't come close to matching my previous salary. But I'm offering a product that is pure, organic, healthy, and fun. The other day one of my regular customers started explaining to a new customer how healthy and fresh our smoothies are. That made my day.

SURGING SECTORS Growth in number of woman-owned startups, by industry, 1997–2006

Wholesale trade 283%

Health care 130%

Arts, entertainment 117%

SOURCE: Center for Women's Business Research (cfwbr.org)

MELTING POT Growth in number of woman-owned startups, by ethnicity, 1997–2004

Hispanic 63.9%

African-American 32.5%

Asian 69.3%

Native American 69.3%

SOURCE: Center for Women's Business Research (cfwbr.org)

Number of woman-owned small firms

5.4 million (1997) to 7.7 million (2006)

Percentage growth 42%

SOURCE: Kauffman Foundation (kauffman.org)

As Told to Phaedra Hise contributed to this article.