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Female networks create opportunities

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Lara Tusher was stuck.

After spending six years developing Velocity Art and Design into a successful home-furnishing retail presence in Seattle and on the Web, Tusher became so wrapped up in the daily details of her business that she couldn't turn her attention to the development of the company's marketing, Web site and catalog.

Hoping to begin publishing a bimonthly design newsletter and a design catalog, Tusher joined a fledgling business incubator -- a local branch of a national campaign called Ladies Who Launch -- to test her ideas against the opinions of other businesswomen.

Tusher said she could have used that kind of informed sounding board six years earlier when she was seeking capital for Velocity's startup costs. Gaining access to business resources is a problem faced by many women who hope to add to the estimated 10.6 million U.S. businesses privately held by women.

The past three years have seen steady revenue increases from women-owned businesses, such as Tusher's, that do $1 million in sales per year. Despite that success, only 56 percent of those businesses use commercial loans or lines of credit. The owners prefer to use business earnings as their primary source of funding.

Acquiring capital and enlarging the scope of their business ideas are the biggest challenges for women in business, said Erin Fuller, the executive director of the National Association of Women Business Owners. But, she said, women are becoming more adept at overcoming those obstacles.

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