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Female Entrepreneurs Steal Skills From Corporate America

Stacie Urbach took company-honed skills and ran. Find out how it helped her succeed.

During the 10 years Stacie Urbach worked at CitiBank, FGIC -- a subsidiary of GE -- and other major companies, she was pilfering right under their noses.

Two years ago Urbach waltzed off with her "loot" -- skills honed at those companies -- and used it to found her own business,

Smart Heel, a company specializing in heel protectors.

It all started when Urbach, 36, tore the heel off her brand new Jimmy Choo shoes on the way to a corporate event. A fruitless search for a heel protector prompted Urbach to make her own.

At the time, the corporate world was losing its appeal for Urbach. She had fewer days off than colleagues who had children, and undefined deadlines often cut into her personal time -- causing her to miss a John Fogerty concert on one occasion.

It wasn't long before Urbach found herself living the life of a successful corporate fugitive.

The Goods

Women began

leaving corporate America to start their own businesses in considerable numbers around 1997, says Betty Spence, president of the

National Association for Female Executives.

Most of these women are developing an idea, many want flexibility and almost all use skills they learned in the demanding corporate world to give them an edge over less experienced entrepreneurs.

Urbach outlines the skills she stole:

Put It in Writing

: The financial world taught Urbach the importance of putting responsibilities and liabilities in writing, especially when dealing with a non-patented idea.

Thanks to her corporate schooling, Urbach had an edge when negotiating nondisclosure agreements with several manufactures for her product.

How to Do Due Diligence

: After Smart Heel's first press release, Urbach was approached by several media companies who wanted to market her product via infomercial. "They really sold me on their ideas," she explains.

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But her corporate education had taught her better.

Prior to writing any checks, Urbach did some investigative research and turned up some very uncomplimentary information about the companies. "Isaved myself a lot of money and heartache," she says.

Getting the Green

: As an underwriter and insurer of asset-backed securities during her previous career, Urbach worked extensively with FICO scores -- a summary of an individual's credit history that determines that person's ability to pay back a loan.

Knowing the components of the FICO score helped Urbach to better prepare information for banks when asking for a small business loan.

Fast Thinking

: After eight years as a corporate attorney, Alexandra Damsker started

ACD Premium Pastries.

"I spent eight years smoothing over life on behalf of clients and partners, extricating them from situations that should have cost millions of dollars," says Damsker, who entered the pastry industry as a problem solving pro, a skill that saved her from being overwhelmed by unfamiliar demands.

Marketing Skills

: Starting a small business means constantly marketing yourself, explains Spence, and those with experience from the corporate world have an advantage.

Urbach's work in profits and losses at her previous jobs gave her a unique perspective on what kind of marketing works.

After years of marketing her own law firm, Damsker learned that marketing yourself, vs. your company, can be an entrepreneur's most effective marketing tool -- "or your worst nightmare when you don't live up to your promises," she says.

You Can't Steal Everything

Corporate experience couldn't prepare these women for everything -- like the lack of a paycheck. "I haven't gotten paid in three years," quips Urbach, who says long hours in an empty office can get lonely.

No matter how prepared she feels from her previous career, Spence advises every aspiring female entrepreneur to learn from a mentor who has spent time in the entrepreneurial world.

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"Once women really understand how the business world works and what behaviors and ideals it values, not only will they be more likely to succeed in it, they will also have the option to change it," says Damsker.

As of 2006, nearly 10.4 million firms were owned by women employing more than 12.8 million people, and generating $1.9 trillion in sales, according to the

Center for Women's Business Research.