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Kelly Fitzgerald, founder of Society of Work, speaks about Chattanooga's new workspace which is located on the 13th floor of 701 Market Street.
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Kristina Montague is a principal of the Jump Fund.

Best places for women to start a business

1. Tulsa, Okla.

2. Chattanooga

3. Birmingham, Ala.

4. Richmond, Va.

5. Lakeland, Fla.

6. Fayetteville, N.C.

7. Asheville, N.C.

8. Atlanta

9. Portland

10. Virginia Beach, Va.

Source: Thumbtack survey of 20,557 women business owners.

Women starting businesses in Chattanooga are among the most optimistic in the country, according to a new nationwide survey of female entrepreneurs.

In its annual ranking of the best cities for woman-owned businesses, Thumbtack.com ranked Chattanooga as the second best city in America for women to start a business. The rating is based upon its survey during the first half of 2016 of 20,557 women who do business on Thumbtack across the United States.

Thumbtack matches people with handymen and other temporary service providers.

Chattanooga, which ranked behind only Tulsa, Okla., for its appeal to female entrepreneurs, was among seven Southern cities that comprised the top 10 cities on the Thumbtack list.

Chattanooga's No. 2 rating among cities for woman-owned startup businesses matched the ranking in a similar rating released in February by the financial website WalletHub which ranked cities on their environment for women.

"I think we're really at a pivotal point that is moving us upward and, to a large extent that's because we are fortunate to have a lot of really talented and supportive women in this town," said Kelly Fitzgerald, owner of the Society of Work in Chattanooga and one of the directors of the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga.

Although women still comprise a lower share of corner offices and board seats on publicly traded companies in Chattanooga than the U.S. as a whole, local female entrepreneurs said they are finding a more business friendly and supportive culture in Chattanooga than in most cities.

Chattanooga is home to the only entirely female-headed venture fund, the Jump Fund, which has invested in 18 female-headed businesses across the Southeast since it began in 2012.

Female entrepreneurs also have been assisted by programs such as Launch, the Company Lab, BrightBridge Women's Center and the Hamilton County Business Development Center — each of which has had a bigger share of woman-owned businesses than most accelerators and tech incubators.

"We have a lot of women starting businesses and we have found a lot of investment opportunity with such businesses," said Kristina Montague, managing partner for the Jump Fund. "We still have a lot of challenges and a long ways to go, but the Jump Fund is truly unique in the South in investing in just female-headed businesses. As we have traveled around the country talking with others about the Jump Fund, a lot of people have begun to discover Chattanooga and wonder what is in the water here and why we seem to be doing better than many areas."

Chattanooga female leaders have been pushing for more women in business and government leadership for the past two decades through the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute.

Patti Frierson, this year's chairwoman of the CWLI, said the group has grown to a record high 635 members, many of them young women in their 20s or early 30s.

"We have seen increasing growth in women in small, woman-owned businesses joining CWLI for support and connecting with like-minded women," she said. "Many are young entrepreneurs who are striking out on their own instead of looking for a job."

Nationwide, women own more than 9 million businesses nationwide and, according to SCORE, woman-owned businesses are growing 1.5 times faster than the national average.

The top-rated cities in the Thumbtack survey were those where women report being happiest running a business.

The survey was posed to business owners who use Thumbtack's service, which allows customers to search for suppliers of services, like handymen, based upon their individual needs. Thumbtack customers often look to hire professionals to help them accomplish their personal projects or business needs, and more than 200,000 professionals are included on Thumbtack.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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