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Women Starting Businesses after Taking Multi-Year Career Breaks

by Carol Fishman Cohen

We've been following return-to-work stories since 2001 when my co-author, Vivian Steir Rabin, interviewed me about my return to work after 11 years out of the full-time workforce as part of a collection of "relaunch success stories" she was building.  Ultimately, our book Back on the Career Track reflected more than 100 of these stories, and our iRelaunch.com website features more than 150 more.  We study relaunch success stories in all different fields and work configurations, including relaunching entrepreneurs.  Here are three stories of women who relaunched their careers by starting businesses.  Take a look:

Marsha Besley-Connelan
Founder and President, Marina Medical Billing
11-year career break

"I began my career as a school teacher and then took an 11-year career break to be home with my two sons. My husband at the time was an emergency room physician who was independently contracted with the hospital. Historically, hospitals put both the facility and the physician charges on one bill, but my husband's hospital billing guidelines changed so that the hospital-based physicians had to bill for their own services. There was no one in the marketplace prepared to bill for emergency services so it became my responsibility to 'figure it out.'

"In order to successfully process and manage thousands of medical bills it was necessary to purchase a very expensive computer system, and to help pay for this system, I had to find other medical groups in the same situation. Thus, my company, Marina Medical Billing Service, was born. It is now one of the largest medical billing services, specializing in emergency medicine, in the country. I rented the closest office space I could find but worked as much as I could from home. When my children got older, I was able to focus and work more aggressively on expanding the business. I'm now about to retire from my company after 29 years of active management. It has been a very interesting and fulfilling entrepreneurial career path."

Ann Levin
Founder, Senior Move Partners
20-year career break

"I developed strong organizational skills working for 13 years managing national advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. This required being able to plan and co-ordinate dozens of details involving a myriad of people and logistics. These skills were re-deployed while moving nine times, among four states, in the first 11 years of my marriage. I then took a 20-year career break to care for my children, and ultimately for my mother after she suffered a debilitating stroke which immediately necessitated accommodations to her living situation. Eventually, this included downsizing of her home and relocation to an assisted living facility. I have also been an active volunteer and held leadership positions in several organizations including serving on the Board of Directors of Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, which provides non-sectarian housing for low-income seniors.

"I started Senior Move Partners after I realized through personal experience how difficult it is for seniors and their families to manage a move, especially if the senior needs extra help or if family is not nearby. My role allows me to combine all of my interests and skills: superb organization and logistics management, compassion for the senior population and their families, an interest in social action, and even a little decorating thrown in!"

Roberta Carson
Founder, Zaggo, Inc.
Six-year career break

"I received my M.S. in Industrial Engineering and worked as an ergonomist for 16 years before quitting in 1999 to spend more time with my two sons. Over the years, I worked as a volunteer for several organizations and in my sons' schools. I became an empty nester in 2005 when my youngest left for boarding school. I became very involved as a volunteer with a domestic violence agency, becoming the development chair on the Board of Directors; overseeing two large fundraising events each year, the annual appeal and other fundraising activities.

"In 2005, my oldest son Zachary was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Shortly after his diagnosis I became dedicated to raising money to fund research into the very rare but extremely deadly brain tumor he had. I have raised almost $1 million to date which is being used to fund a groundbreaking study at 20 hospitals in the U.S. In 2009, I decided to develop the ZaggoCareTM system - practical tips and tools for managing a medical ordeal - to fill a long-ignored gap in medical care. The central element of the system is an 80-page practical guidebook which comes with a set of organizational tools. I decided to form this new venture as a non-profit organization so I could donate all of the profits to the brain tumor research fund established in memory of Zachary. As the process developed, I quickly realized that I could not do this alone. I reached out to my network of friends and associates and was fortunate to have dozens of people offer pro bono help, including writers, lawyers, marketing experts, public relations experts, operations managers, graphic designers and more. I can honestly say that this venture would not be successful without the countless of hours of help I received, and continue to receive.

"The business officially launched mid-January 2011, with an e-commerce website. The majority of my time is now spent making connections for potential institutional sales, including hospitals and health insurers. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am hoping that I will be able to fulfill both of my missions - to help people during a difficult time in their lives and to drastically improve the survival rate of the deadliest pediatric cancer."

Note how in all three cases, a professional or personal challenge faced by a family member was the genesis for the business.  Read more iRelaunch "Relaunch Success Stories" by clicking here.