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Surprise! Women started more firms than men.

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"They're rediscovering the art of 'bootstrapping' and keeping your overhead low and keeping your operating costs low so you can adjust to these economic shocks and keep adjusting," says Jeffrey Cornwall, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. "It doesn't mean they're not growing their business or not starting their business, it means they're finding another way to get there."

Take Mary Frankie Forte, owner of the It's a Grind coffee shop in downtown Oakland, Calif. "Customers are definitely cutting back," she says. Some have downgraded from lattes to drip coffee, which costs half as much; others may get a muffin only twice a week instead of daily. "I'm just trying to make do with what I haveā€¦. Loans to pay back, I don't need."

This tendency of women entrepreneurs to take out fewer loans and grow more slowly is well known. "Women tend to be ... more conservative and careful in their financial-management practices," says Susan Coleman, professor of economics at Hartford University in Connecticut. That may be the right strategy for this era, says Dr. Cornwall. "Those businesses that right now are taking on less debt are going to be those that are much stronger coming out of the recession."

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