Celebrating Women's History

Pandemic hits women-owned businesses hard, but hope is on the horizon

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — The pandemic is hitting women-owned businesses hard in Indiana. That’s according to the Indiana Business Research Center at the IU Kelley School of Business.

Experts said that pre-pandemic, Indiana had the third-highest rate of growth for women-owned businesses in the country. However, progress stalled as women took the brunt of career impacts and childcare responsibilities due to COVID-19. Now researchers are hopeful the downward trend will change in the next few months.

“It’s a family dream and that’s what keeps me going every day,” said Micah Bilotto in Carmel.

For Bilotto, that dream of owning her own business was actually fueled by struggles during the pandemic.

“It is interesting the amount of women I have seen through this last year kind of reinvent themselves a little bit,” said Bilotto.

With three kids at home and gyms closed for part of the health crisis, Bilotto who is an athletic trainer, did just that. She took control of her career and now she and her husband are opening F45 Training in Northeast Carmel. It’s a 45 minute, total body workout, despite COVID-19.

“I feel strengthened by it. I feel empowered, and I feel like I am showing an example of you can do anything that you put your mind to,” said Bilotto.

Sadly, a lot of women-owned businesses haven’t been as lucky.

“We have seen a number of women-owned businesses having to close their doors. Whether temporarily or permanently,” said Carol Rogers, the Co-Director of the Indiana Business Research Center at the IU Kelley School of Business. “We also anticipate that there are probably a number of bankruptcies that are being filed by women.”

Rogers said at least 21% of all businesses have experienced revenue loss during the pandemic. However,  most women-owned businesses are in face-to-face industries and were hit the hardest.

“A lot of those are the ones we see with the closed signs, right. The restaurants, the gyms, the hair salons. All kinds of businesses that were hit tremendously by the pandemic” said Rogers.

Pre-pandemic the research center said 30% of Indiana businesses were partially or wholly owned by women. Indiana job creation by women was also ranked third-highest in the country. Plus, a recent American Express report shows Indiana had the 3rd highest rate of growth for women-owned businesses in the United States. 

The research center said it will take time to know the exact numbers and full impact that the pandemic has had on women-owned businesses in Indiana.

Still, Rogers said women are in a unique position to continue the path of success despite the pandemic and create businesses that work in a new normal. While women have been strained in employment due to child-rearing responsibilities, they could be better equipped to create jobs that are flexible to childcare needs. 

“I think that women are particularly well-positioned to come up with some clever ideas that really combine home and work, and fitness and children. There is a lot of unique opportunities out there,” said Rogers.

Now as the vaccine rollout continues and restrictions are eased in Indiana, there is business optimism.

“We also see that there is a lot of opportunity for them to grow and recapture that momentum they had back in 2019 and early 2020,” said Rogers.

That’s exactly what Bilotto hopes to do when she opens her gym in May of 2021.

“It just motivates me just a little bit more,” said Bilotto. “Just to kind of prove the statistics wrong.”