Tools and Resources for Women Starting a Business
In the U.S. economy, entrepreneurship is important. It increases productivity, spurs innovation, and creates jobs. In general, though entrepreneurship in the U.S. has followed the trends of recession and pre-recession declines and increases, the number of entrepreneurs has increased steadily in some demographics, such as women.
In a report that discusses the state of women–owned businesses, researchers found that women’s entrepreneurship (women-owned companies are defined as a business with at least 51% ownership from women) has been on the rise for two decades, increasing at a rate of 114%, compared to the national growth rate of 44%. There are roughly 11.6 million women-owned businesses that generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenue and employ nearly nine million people.
Minority women entrepreneurship accounts for 46% of all women-owned businesses and has seen an extraordinary increase of 467%. This combined growth rate of minority women who are business owners is tallied from individual groups:
- African Americans: 605%;
- Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders: 493%;
- Latinas: 491%;
- Asian Americans: 314%;
- Native American/ Alaskan Natives: 201%.
These percentages are even more remarkable when you consider the fact that, on average, women start their businesses with nearly half as much capital as men — $75,000, compared to $135,000. Women need greater access to capital, as women receive 0.1% of venture capital financing, compared to 0.4% for men.
In addition to the difficulties of receiving venture capital, especially considering that investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men, there are other hurdles that women face. There are gender biases and cultural impacts that directly hinder them. To tackle the gender gap and thrive as entrepreneurs, women need increasing guidance, training, and mentorship, as well as access to resources and scholarships.
While women are competing to overcome gender-based learning and development gaps in the workplace, they may not receive the same amount of encouragement and training as men. To remedy this disparity, there are quite a few training programs on different aspects of entrepreneurship designed to encourage and nurture budding female entrepreneurs.
The U.S. Small Business Administration offers diverse training programs at no cost.
- Buying a Business: This short training session provides an overview of buying a business, and provides resources to decide if buying a business is right for you.
- Competitive Advantage: Learning how to study your competitive space, how to brand your business and identify customers, and how to create pricing strategies can help give your business a competitive advantage.
- Financing Options for Small Businesses: Knowing how to determine your financial needs, or finding loans, grants, venture capital, angel investors, and other financial options is important to those who need financial assistance to get their business started.
- Finding and Attracting Investors: This lesson discusses determining the need for outside financing, and defining what an investor is, grasping the investment process, and understanding investor expectations.
- How to Write a Business Plan: Writing your business plan is an important first step. This course describes the important components of a business plan and provides samples and resources to draw from.
- Introduction to Pricing: Learn how to develop a pricing strategy to increase the success of your business.
- Legal Requirements for Small Businesses: There are federal, state, and local legal obligations that small business owners need to be aware of.
- Market Research: Having a great business idea and plan is one thing, but knowing how to identify your customers and market to them is another.
- Marketing 101: A Guide to Winning Customers: This lesson focuses on how to expand your customer base and market. It touches on what marketing is and how to conduct market research and create marketing strategies. It also provides information on marketing resources.
- Pricing Models for Successful Business: Learn how to assess competitors, set prices, calculate costs, and more. This course explains various pricing models you may apply to your business.
- Sales: A Guide for the Small Business Owner: Great products and services are important to businesses, but they don’t sell themselves. This lesson focuses on the sales aspect of your small business.
- Small Business Employee Recruitment and Retention: There may come a time when your business is ready to expand, or you may need to hire. Employees are one of your most valuable assets; learn more on how to locate, hire, and retain talented employees.
- Social Media Marketing: Social media can be a great marketing tool to expand your business and reach new markets. This lesson will provide research processes, strategies, and basic knowledge to utilize social media marketing for your business.
- Taking Your High-Tech Product to Market: High-tech products can be game-changing, but they need a strategy to break through to the market. This course discusses the life cycle of high-tech products.
- Understanding Your Customer: This course will help you deepen your knowledge of your customer; it provides resources and tools you may need in order to better understand your customer and increase sales.
- Young Entrepreneurs: This introductory course is helpful to all entrepreneurs, but is focused on young entrepreneurs. It discusses creating and evaluating ideas, financing options, and legally registering your business. This is an all-in-one starting point to the resources you need to begin your entrepreneurial journey.
The Women’s Business Enterprise Center (WBEC) East offers in-person classes in the Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Delaware, and South Jersey areas, and online entrepreneurial training focused specifically on women entrepreneurs.
In-person classes include the Jumpstart Series, FastTrac, and Orientation and Business Assessment classes and workshops. Each is dedicated to a specific aspect of the journey of entrepreneurship and is available at a low cost. For more information on in-person classes, you can call them at (215) 790-9232.
The WBEC also offers online courses and material at a cost of $99 per course; the courses generally last six weeks. Though there are courses that range from computer applications such as Microsoft, QuickBooks, and Windows, there are also classes on legal studies. The business-focused classes include:
- Accounting: There are four classes with differing levels of understanding for small business accounting.
- Administrative: There are two classes available for business administration.
- Communication: There are three classes available for effective business communication education.
- Finance: There are four classes available on money management, personal finance, and business finance education.
- Marketing and Sales: There are eight classes available on marketing and sales that range from professional sales skills to introductory courses on utilizing tools such as Google Analytics.
- Operations: There are 10 classes available that offer insight on a variety of topics such as supply chain management fundamentals, creating a successful business plan, and how to apply for and write a grant proposal.
- Project Management: There are four classes available that detail project management applications, fundamentals, and high-speed project management.
- Small Business: There are four classes available that detail how to start and operate a small business.
- Soft Skills: There are six classes that provide insight into valuable soft skills you may need as an entrepreneur, including leadership, fundamentals of supervision and management, and building teams.
Mentorship links small business owners with experienced business professionals. Mentors provide insight and targeted one-on-one advice to help build successful businesses. Mentorship opportunities can be helpful when you’re considering starting a business, applying for a business loan, finding government contracting opportunities, or improving your existing business. Many mentorship organizations do require membership, and some require paid dues to access their offerings.
- Women Impacting Public Policy: WIPP offers membership and advocacy on behalf of women entrepreneurs by influencing public policy, creating economic opportunities, and forming alliances with other businesses and organizations.
- Association of Women’s Business Centers: The AWBC offers membership, training, events, business development, financing opportunities, and access to a national network of over 100 women’s business centers.
- National Association of Women Business Owners: The NAWBO is a women’s business organization that uplifts and empowers women entrepreneurs in economic, social, and political spheres. The organization works to promote economic development in the women’s entrepreneurial community, create change in business culture, and transform public policy.
- National Association for Female Executives: The NAFE is available to women of all industries and job titles, though partaking in the events and benefits does require a membership. NAFE is a network of women, both local and national, that offers education, networking, and public advocacy for its members.
- SCORE: SCORE is a nonprofit network of volunteers and expert business managers, as well as a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. SCORE provides a wide range of services including mentoring, webinars and courses, as well a library of online resources. They also host many local events held by chapters that provide workshops and roundtable discussions for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
- Women’s Business Development Center: The WBDC offers accessibility to mentoring services, mentorship relationship training, and mentoring events to help develop businesses. The organization connects small business owners with business mentors throughout the U.S., as well as locally. Membership is required, and mentor relationships are at-will of both the mentor and mentee.
Scholarships for Women in Business
Many women are choosing to seek a higher education with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. While an MBA might not be the best option for some entrepreneurs — those with a promising startup idea — it can certainly help you develop entrepreneurial skills, and could make you a better entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs often “wear many hats” in their businesses, and versatility and education across multiple roles such as account management, business development, finance, marketing, operations, or sales management can be crucial in managing a business.
Selecting to pursue an MBA may seem like a daunting task, as college takes a heavy toll on your resources, including time and money. However, there are options that can certainly make pursuing higher education more affordable, such as applying for and knowing the difference between a grant and a scholarship. It is valuable to check with the school you wish to attend or are already attending to see if there are grants or scholarships available. If not, there are other organizations that offer grants and scholarships specifically for women seeking MBAs.
- The American Association of University Women: The AAUW offers sources of funding for graduate women, including grants, fellowships, and scholarships. Applicants must meet necessary requirements, with primary consideration given to women of color and women pursuing higher education in nontraditional fields. There are numerous grants available; funding and requirements are unique to each grant, scholarship, and fellowship.
- American Indian Graduate Center: The American Indian Graduate Center offers the Accenture American Indian Scholarship Fund. This fund allows you to seek a degree as an incoming freshman in specific fields of study. Requirements include submission of a Tribal Eligibility Certificate and Financial Needs Form.
- AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The AG Bell College Scholarship Program awards scholarships to high-achieving students with bilateral hearing loss that was diagnosed before age four. Scholarships are awarded to those attending mainstream universities who are working towards a four-year undergraduate or graduate degree.
- Association of Insurance Compliance Professionals: The AICP offers insurance industry scholarships including actuarial science, economics, finance, management, mathematics, risk management, statistics, or business-related fields. Applicants must have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0.
- C200: C200 is an organization focused on the advancement of women in business. Scholarship awards are available to women who are enrolled in an MBA program at a school that hosts a C200 reachout.
- Golden Key International Honour Society: Golden Key International Honour Society offers scholarships to members for both undergraduate and graduate study. Requirements and scholarship or grant funding may vary among the diverse financial assistance options available.
- Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute: The CHCI offers various scholarships that are generally awarded based on merit or need, but require students to use the financial award for the pursuit of an academic degree. Funding and requirements vary by scholarship.
- Forté: The Forté Fellows Program offers scholarships to women pursuing an MBA degree at a sponsored Forté business school for full-time or part-time students. Candidate considerations include exemplary leadership, a commitment to personal membership or community involvement, and those that represent diverse educational and work backgrounds, career goals, ethnicities, and citizenship.
- Zonta International Foundation: The Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship annually awards up to 32 scholarships of $2,000 at the district/ region level, and six international scholarships of $8,000. The scholarships are available to women of any age pursuing a business program with a major field of specialization in accounting, finance, business management, marketing, operations management, human resources management, international business, or entrepreneurship. Students must be enrolled in at least the second year of an undergraduate program or the final year of a masters program.
- Stephen Bufton Memorial Educational Fund: National scholarships are awarded annually and range from $2,000 to $10,000. Each scholarship is available to women that meet the requirements designated by the SBMEF Board of Trustees.
- PROSPANICA: The Prospanica Foundation’s scholarships are available to undergraduate and graduate degree-seeking students that are of Hispanic/Latino heritage and must be a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident, or DACA recipient. Scholarships range up to $5,000 and are awarded with selection and admission by meeting the scholarship requirements.
- Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund: The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund provides scholarships and support to low-income women aged 35 or older to pursue an associate or first bachelor’s degree.
- National Black MBA Association: The NBMBAA scholarship programs offer a variety of collegiate scholarships from participating universities. The purpose of the NBMBAA Collegiate Partnership Program is to increase placement rates of students in the black community and facilitate access to graduate and business education programs.
There are many difficulties that women in business and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields may face. These may include cognitive and emotional burdens associated with learning, implicit biases, as well as a lack of representation.
An analysis by Harvard Business Review found that access to digital technology accelerates global gender equality by helping women gain employment, attain higher levels of education, and advance at work through digital fluency.
UN Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality, recognizes the power technology may hold for gender equality and has launched an innovation and technology strategy, the Global Innovation Coalition for Change. To decrease the gender gap in both tech and business fields, the Coalition encourages technology access for young women, who will benefit from increasing their digital fluency and representation. The Coalition also works on building market awareness and investing in innovations and tech that meets the needs of women.
Additionally, technology can play an important role in women-owned businesses. Not only does access to tech and tech fluency help close the gender gap, but it also plays a leading role in business growth. Smart devices make it easier to manage or market a company, enabling business owners to run things remotely from home.
Women entrepreneurs who are tech fluent also have better access to information, education, and networking opportunities that can help them grow and maintain their business. E-commerce and the ability to digitally market products and services improves flexibility and provides chances to engage with and explore new markets and customers.
There is also an abundance of apps and programs that make operations, inventory, employee, and financial management much more simple and accessible.
Funding and Investor Resources
When it comes to women entrepreneurs’ access to capital, there are disparities between women-owned businesses and men-owned businesses. These may include:
- Women business owners raise smaller amounts of startup capital and must rely on personal rather than external sources of financing.
- Women’s networks may have fewer viable economic resources.
- Women in business face societal impacts such as unconscious assumptions that they have less credibility or a lack of legitimacy.
Knowing how to acquire investors and apply for small business loans is crucial — especially for women who need funding to start, operate, or grow a small business.
Finding quality investors may take you some time, due diligence, a well-crafted pitch, and a thorough business plan. Acquiring investors can be a good option if you are having trouble getting a small business loan due to bad credit. A good investor is one you can trust and with whom you can come to a reasonable financial agreement that suits the needs of all parties.
There are many types of investors:
- Small business investors: Individuals who specialize in financing early-stage companies with the hope of a return on investment.
- Venture capital firms: Firms that provide venture capital — funds to get a business started with the hope of a return on investment — may offer one of two types of venture capital vehicles: equity or convertible debt. Venture capitalists who provide equity financing get a portion of a company’s equity in return for the investment. Those who provide convertible debt require the debtor to pay back the loan by a specific date, including interest.
- Angel investors: Investors who provide investments early on, usually before other investors may be prepared to invest. Angel investors normally exchange investment for convertible debt or ownership equity.
- Seed funding: Investment capital for a startup company in exchange for a stake in equity or a stake in ownership. Seed funding, or seed capital, is the initial venture money used to get the business started.
- Accredited investors: An accredited investor is a person or business with a high net worth that banks, insurance companies, and brokers trust. Accreditation is proven by means of a high income with a trajectory of continued growth, or a net worth of $1 million or more.
- Non-accredited investors: Non-accredited investors are those who might not be registered with financial authorities. Non-accredited investors may be limited in the amount they can invest.
There is no single approach to looking for investors, but there are a few good options to consider when creating your investment strategy.
- Trusted introductions and strategic networking: Approach successful entrepreneurs and search for investment potential in trusted sources from your network or through any mentorships you may have worked with. Look for founders of companies similar to yours and ask for recommendations.
- Utilize alumni status or network with business schools: Consider looking in your alumni network or networking with universities with strong business or entrepreneurial programs. These networks may be able to help you forge connections, they may point to investment opportunities, or perhaps they’ll offer advice on how to find investors.
- Angel investor networks: Seek out member-based networks. These networks are often location-based and may operate from a fund that has been set aside by an investment firm. These networks oftentimes require an application process.
- Crowdfunding: This can oftentimes be a great seed funding option for a venture. This type of funding often requires the use of apps, online investment platforms, social media, and outreach.
- Industry conferences or summits: If you have not built up your network, are still doing so, or already have one, participating in industry-related events can be a great way to connect with other businesses, entrepreneurs, or business leaders. Your attendance and participation will help you build relationships that you can leverage to find trusted sources of funding.
- Cold outreach: Outreach to investors who you envision working with your strategy and business plan. Be sure to personalize all communication and ensure that your business plan and strategies are flawless. Do your due diligence before reaching out, and tailor your outreach to each individual.
Small Business Loans for Women
Getting a loan for a small business is one of the first steps to getting your business off the page of the business plan and forming in the real world. Startup loans can help you acquire the necessary premises, equipment, products, and staff needed to begin operating. Look for small business loan opportunities or small business loans specific to women entrepreneurs. A few starting points may include:
- The Small Business Administration: The Small Business Administration (SBA) is able to focus specifically on helping women-owned businesses. The SBA does not lend money directly, but guarantees loans from local banks up to a certain amount.
- Women’s Venture Fund: The Women’s Venture Fund offers advisory services as well as women’s business loans. To apply, you must fill out a loan inquiry form.
- Union Bank: Union Bank has lending solutions that are specifically geared towards diversity and inclusion. The Our Business Diversity Lending Program is designed to empower women, minorities, and veteran-owned businesses.
- Tory Burch Foundation: The Tory Burch foundation has a capital program that offers financial assistance as well as other resources to help nurture growth, innovation, marketing, and management of women-owned businesses.
- Female Founders Fund: The Female Founders Fund invests in marketplaces, E-commerce, Web-enabled services, and platforms that are women-led startups.
- Funding Circle: Funding Circle offers financing to help established businesses continue to grow and innovate.
Startup competitions provide the opportunity for many small businesses to pitch their status to numerous and various investors while seeking to win a grand prize of investment money. Such competitions are about more than a grand prize.
Your startup has the chance to be seen and evaluated by many investors at once, some of whom might be willing to work with or invest in your company beyond the competition. The benefits of competing include building your strategic partnerships, increasing visibility and exposure, and receiving expert feedback.
To participate in a startup competition, it is important to research and review the competition standards, limits, types of presentations, and evaluation criteria. Then, tailor your pitch to each competition. Some competitions may have themes or rotate industries, so it is always crucial to review each competition clearly for application details. A few noteworthy startup competitions include:
Opening a franchise can be a great choice for an entrepreneur. In most cases franchises offer a strong brand with franchise support. It is important to consider, however, that a franchise may come with pre-determined business methods and a requirement to pay a portion of profits to the franchisor. Moreover, your business’s reputation will be largely dependent on the franchise network, not just your own individual unit.
Selecting to open a franchise takes a lot of research and self-reflection. Of the many things to consider a few are:
- What type of business appeals to you?
- Will you be able to secure the loans needed to work with your franchise of choice?
- Can you strictly commit to the business methods of a franchise?
- What type of business does your community need or want?
- What are the most profitable franchises to own?
Hiring a franchise consultant can help guide you through the process, help with research, and narrow down the contenders.
You may have to apply to a franchise and attend a “discovery day” which is generally an in-depth meeting between the franchisor and a few potential franchisees. If you select a franchise you are interested in, you will need to find a suitable location and secure the necessary funding.
Most franchises require franchise agreements, which can range in flexibility or rigidity. Every industry requires different permits and insurance, and you may need to check with local authorities to ensure you are in compliance. Finally, you may need to construct or modify any premises, hire and train staff, and market your business before you open.
Developing Your Network
Building a network is one of the most foundational aspects of entrepreneurship. A strong network can create inclusivity and spark creative inspiration. Networks share stories, challenges, mentorship, and valuable knowledge. They can help you find collaborators and investors. A great network will be your sounding board to reflect on ideas and practices. Networking may seem intimidating, but the value of a strong network can be the difference between success and failure. Consider these networking tips for cultivating relationships in professional settings:
- Find the right people: Networking isn’t always about casting the widest net and hoping for the best. It is about concentrating on valuable relationships and connecting with others in your industry who are focused on the same values or success metrics that you are. This is not to say you should underestimate connections outside of your industry.
- Be an equitable connection: Focus on creating equal gains in your network connections and being reliable. Offer support, guidance, and knowledge when you can, and when you ask for help, it may be offered more gratuitously.
- Help to connect others: Though some connections and relationships may not be helpful to you, acting as a connecting resource for others will build your rapport in different networks.
- Use social networks: Get digital and utilize apps, programs, and platforms that are helpful for connecting people, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, or other professional mediums, such as Facebook groups for women entrepreneurs.
- Attend social events: Being prepared, dressing appropriately, and carrying yourself professionally can broaden your opportunities in making social and professional connections for your network.
- Maintain your network: Try not to let your connections grow stale. Keep in touch with your network and stay active and interact in your networking group. Be responsive to others, share their ideas, and work to foster and build relationships.