Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, a national not-for-profit provider of business resources and community support for women entrepreneurs, launched a yearlong nationwide business-growth marathon to bring women entrepreneurs together to network online and compete in a race to grow their businesses.

With its mantra, “Start it, save it or grow it,” Count Me In’s Make Mine a Million $ Business® Race (the M3 Race) hopes to empower 175,000 women entrepreneurs to reach their revenue goals by offering lifelines to those businesses looking for help and supplying healthy businesses with resources to grow to the next level.

Since every new business creates a minimum of one job, the M3 Race could help create 500,000 jobs over the next three years at a time when the country sorely needs them, the organizers say. “All across America, women entrepreneurs are ready to do their part to stimulate the economy by building their businesses, starting new ventures and creating jobs in every community,” Count Me In says. “The M3 Race inspires women to challenge themselves and each other to realize their vision for the company and reach their revenue targets.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women own more than 10 million businesses, yet only 2.6 percent, or 242,000, report more than $1 million in revenue, with the majority generating revenues below $50,000. Census says 1.8 million women entrepreneurs make up the “missing middle” — women who are in striking distance of $1 million and have revenues of $250,000 to $750,000. On average, these women hire three to six people when they grow to $1 million in revenue.

“A million-dollar mindset requires a clear goal and a serious plan to go about achieving it,” says Susan Sobbott, president, American Express OPEN. “The online business growth assessment, digital financial dashboard and M3 Race will provide women entrepreneurs the tools and confidence they need. Growing their businesses will create new opportunities for themselves, for new and existing employees and their communities.”

A founding sponsor of the race, American Express OPEN enables businessowners who are also customers of American Express Co. to take advantage of a specific set of products, tools, services and savings — including charge and credit cards, convenient access to working capital, online account-management capabilities and savings on business services from Count Me In partners.

Just like walk/run marathons, participants in the M3 Race can choose their own pace for their 2009 business revenue goal: $250,000, $500,000, $1 million, or more. The judging criteria include both quantitative business metrics as well as qualitative assessments of business potential. The grand-prize winner will receive a $100,000 cash prize and a year of marketing, advertising and media opportunities. Runner-up winners from all 50 states and in 15 business sectors will receive a prize package that includes one-on-one business coaching, technology products, media exposure, access to new markets and products, and services to help them manage their families and households.

“Rosie the Riveter called twenty million women into the factories to support the economy and contribute to the war effort during World War II,” says Count Me In founder and Chief Executive Officer Nell Merlino, whose business blog at www.readersdigest.com discusses various perspectives on entrepreneurship and its critical role in today’s economy. “In 2009, ‘Ellie the Entrepreneur’ is poised to help the country’s economic recovery by creating jobs, growing businesses and securing their families’ futures.”

Women can join the M3 Race by logging on to www.makemineamillion.org. Registration will remain open until June 30, 2009. The race ends at midnight on Dec. 31, 2009, and winners will be announced in February 2010.