October is National Women’s Small Business Month, a time to acknowledge and encourage the talented female entrepreneurs who are driving growth and innovation in the American economy. With 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. aggregately generating nearly $1.6 trillion in revenue, it is clear that women-led companies are a fundamental part of the startup landscape. Despite this, according to The Center for an Urban Future, women still face sharp disparities in their capacity to secure funding compared to their male counterparts, and structural biases continue to discourage women from engaging in entrepreneurial pursuits. Fortunately, a number of forward-thinking governments and private citizens across the country have identified some of these inhibitors to female entrepreneurial activity and are working on strategies for addressing them.
In 2008, a Kansas City-based network of angel investors dedicated to funding women-led ventures called the Women’s Capital Connection (WCC) was established. WCC offers both capital and mentorship to women at every stage of the business cycle; since its inception, nearly $3 million in funding has gone to fourteen companies in metropolitan Kansas City. The city is also home to the Kauffman Foundation’s “FastTrac” program, which equips entrepreneurs with essential skills and has a very high proportion of female graduates. Another group, Chattanooga’s JumpFund, seeks to seed and grow female-owned ventures in the Southeast, where less than 6 percent of venture capital is directed a companies owned by women. The JumpFund seeks to train strong female entrepreneurs as well, operating under the belief that improving the abilities of women who receive their funds will ultimately yield higher returns for them as well.
Not all efforts to strengthen women-led businesses are the product of private enterprise. The Small Business Administration has established Women’s Business Centers in nearly every state that serve as classrooms, coworking spaces, and venues for networking, in an effort to foster the exponential growth in female entrepreneurship witnessed in recent years. Individual states and localities have also supplemented the SBA’s programming by launching programs like Nashville’s “iFundWomen”, a specialized crowdfunding platform developed by a former Google executive that supports women-owned small businesses.
Just as these local networks of female entrepreneurs and funders share best practices and experiential knowledge amongst themselves, organizations like Engine, and institutions like Congress, have an obligation to recognize, actively support these proven solutions to the obstacles that women entrepreneurs are confronted with. Only by doing so can we ensure that the progress marked by National Women’s Small Business Month does not abate.