We all know that difficult economic times bring opportunity. A Maine writer and entrepreneur believes that opportunities have never been better for women and business — and never before has the need for female leadership in business been more acute.

Tracey Ann Collins of Saco has co-authored a book for women entrepreneurs, “The SmartGirls Way.” Released Dec. 1, the book presents four years of research and interviews with women entrepreneurs in hopes of providing a path for other women to turn their ideas into businesses. While much has been written about the differences between men and women, Collins and co-author Jean Brittingham try to embrace those differences so women can leverage them for success. Their goal is to help women understand their strengths to create socially conscious and profitable ventures.

Collins spoke about the book last week.

Q: Let’s start by talking about the concept of this book. Where did the idea begin?

A: Jean, my business partner, spent well over 15 years working in government, business and academia, and grew frustrated by having the same conversations over and over without seeing any real change. After spending a lot of time in traditional business settings, Jean and many other women like her realized a big change needed to happen, and that it would not happen within the existing paradigm of corporate culture.

We met through a separate project, and started talking. She realized she had a creative idea for a company, and I have always wanted to write a book. So this is not only a book, but also a company. We call ourselves a social venture. It’s a way of applying business practices and tools to create social change. We believe that we can’t tell women how to launch a company if we are not a company ourselves.

Q: What is the premise behind the SmartGirls Way?

A: At the heart of it is this: While women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men, they only contribute to less than 4 percent of the GNP. Women are stepping up to the plate and climbing the walls, but we are not scaling them enough to thrive. By providing examples of successful women and telling their stories, we want to help women achieve their goals and also help the economy at the same time. According to the U.S. Census, by 2025, the percentage of women entrepreneurs will increase to 55 percent. And there is no debate that the creation of jobs will come from new companies. The only question is how we build those companies and create those jobs. We believe that new ventures by women will provide an economic and social jolt to our economy.

Q: What impact will women-led businesses have on the next economy, and how can women have a positive impact on the current economy?

A: Women already are having a positive impact on the current economy, because they are starting businesses. We also know that women are investing in their families while investing in their companies, and we have to think what that will mean in terms of shaping an economy of consciousness. If more women were in positions of leadership, we would see more balanced views. It’s not about man vs. woman, but a patriarchal culture vs. a matriarchal culture. We do not see diverse views in leadership circles.

I have to say, too, that women driving the next economy does not mean that we want to rule the world. We just want to bring balance back into the world. Men and women balance each other out, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Q: What attributes do women possess, generally, that set them up for success in business and in life?

A: I am glad you asked, because that is what the book is all about, really. We surveyed several hundred women entrepreneurs about the characteristics that lend themselves to entrepreneurship. Everybody talks about passion and creativity, but we came up with six characteristics that women really seem to rely upon.

One is integrity. Women in particular come to entrepreneurship from a point of integrity. Creativity, obviously. Women are good at creativity finding solutions. Intuition. As a gender, intuition has always been stereotyped. Whenever we get an intuitive tip, we talk about it as an emotion. Passion, which is really the rocket fuel of any entrepreneurial venture.

Curiosity. I think this is the strength that women have but need to work on more. Curiosity helps us navigate the unknown. Weaving. It’s the most feminine of all our SmartGirls traits. It represents a combination of multitasking, networking and communication — how we thread things together, how we move our communities together. It goes back to the basis of social evolution.

Q: How did you research your book? What were your methods?

A: We did lots of interviews with women and pulled lots of data about women, leadership and entrepreneurship. We pulled it all together. We did more than 200 interviews over three years. We asked, how did you start your business, what are the strengths that you used in your business? What advice would you give other entrepreneurs? What are you going to do next?

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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