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Aundrea Wilcox speaks Tuesday during the WE: Women Entrepreneurs conference at the Celebration! Event and Conference Center.

Women entrepreneurs need to support one another -- not tear each other down.

Women entrepreneurs need to support one another — not tear each other down.

That was the message author Aundrea Wilcox had Tuesday for several hundred women who attended the third annual Women Entrepreneurs symposium, or WE, in Chattanooga.

Back-stabbing and gossip often hold women back, according to Wilcox, who's the executive director of the Kingsport, Tenn., Office of Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship.

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Casey Knox, second from right, talks about digital marketing as Heather Ewalt, Lakweshia Ewing, Maggie Hodges and Ronal Sellers, from left, listen.

"We have to build each other up. The single biggest thing that we do is we gossip, we talk about other women behind their backs. We need to stop it, we need to change it," said Wilcox, who wrote profiles of 10 women and one man in her book, "Superwoman Smarts: Activating Leadership and Substance."

"All of the women that I interviewed said that is the biggest detriment," Wilcox said. "When you light another woman's candle, it doesn't dim your own light."

Wilcox was one of 14 speakers Tuesday at the annual symposium, which is funded through an agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and Chattanooga State Community College and has a variety of sponsors.

Casey Knox, director of digital and creative strategy for Southside Creative Group, urged women entrepreneurs to pay attention to the smartphones most people carry with them because "that's where the consumers are."

She said 2014 was the year when people started spending more time on mobile devices than on desktop computers. Some 70 percent of smartphone users keep them within hands' reach 22 hours a day, Knox said.

Maggie Hodges, senior Internet marketing analyst in Full Media's Chattanooga office, said businesses need to be sure their websites display properly on different-sized screens, from smartphones to desktop computers.

"Your website needs to adapt," she said. "It needs to be one fluid application."

But businesses shouldn't get hung up on trying to have the perfect digital strategy, according to Hodges.

"Start somewhere," she said. "You have to go ahead and get started."

A report released last week suggested more women are getting started with their own businesses.

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Lakweshia Ewing, second from left, talks about digital marketing as Heather Ewalt, Maggie Hodges and Casey Knox, from left, listen during the WE: Women Entrepreneurs conference.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, there were 9.9 million women-owned businesses as of 2012, up 27.5 percent from the 7.8 million in 2007. Women-owned firms make up 36.2 percent of all nonfarm businesses, up from 29.6 percent in 2007.

The Census reports are analyzed every five years, and the 2012 Survey of Business Owners polled approximately 1.75 million businesses for information about characteristics of the businesses and its owners.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., the symposium's honorary chairman, said he is eager for even more women to start and grow local businesses. The Chattanooga Republican credited his success at his former law firm to his wife, Brenda, whom he met at the University of Tennessee's law school.

"It was through our hard work together," Fleischmann told the crowd. "Many folks have said, 'Gosh Chuck, you're one of the most successful attorneys in Chattanooga.' But it was shared success."

He told attendees they could watch him praise the symposium on the floor of the U.S. House if they watched C-SPAN.

"Be watching, I'm going to be giving a speech on the house floor. I want the WE to grow," Fleischmann said. "I want to see 1,000 women entrepreneurs in this room."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

This story has been corrected to identify Aundrea Wilcox as the author of "Superwoman Smarts: Activating Leadership and Substance" who spoke at the Women Entrepreneurs symposium.

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