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Business resources for female SMB owners

Editorial Team

5 min read

The number of woman-owned businesses in the US has grown exponentially over the years. Between 2014 – 2019, enterprises owned by women grew by 21% to nearly 13 million. Compare that to the number of overall businesses that opened over the same period: a modest increase of just 9%.

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Women-owned businesses support the economy in myriad ways. Over 9 million people are employed by women-owned businesses, and women-owned businesses generated $1.9 trillion in revenue for the U.S. economy in 2019. 

Despite these important gains and contributions, however, women entrepreneurs still struggle to receive financial assistance, mentorship, grants, and other support enjoyed by their male counterparts. For women of color, the disparity is even greater. For instance, in 2018, the average loan size for women founders was 31% lower than for male founders. 

To honor Women’s History Month, we’re sharing this list of resources for women SMB owners and entrepreneurs. These grants, loans, and networking opportunities are slowly but surely evening the playing field for entrepreneurs looking to bring their business to the next level. 

Grants, contests, and crowdfunding

There are many places to search for grants: Grants.gov, for instance, or the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE). Those databases are full of funding opportunities—however, you may be competing for grants with male entrepreneurs, too. GrantsforWomen.org is a comprehensive database of grant opportunities for which you will only be competing with other women. You can search for scholarship opportunities and other grants; note that many listings are for non-business purposes.

There are many other grants and contests geared specifically to women. Since 2014, the Girlboss Foundation has awarded grants of $15,000 twice a year to female entrepreneurs. Grants go to business owners working in design, fashion, music and the arts. 

The Amber Grant Foundation offers a lot of opportunities to women-owned businesses. Each month, the Foundation gives away at least $10,000; plus, they award a year-end grant of $25,000 to one of the twelve monthly grant winners. The application is relatively straightforward and costs $15 to apply. 

Next, the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards provides grants to women-owned businesses that are less than three years old. In this contest, judges are looking for business ideas that are creative, financially-sustainable, and have some form of social impact. Fourteen finalists get $30,000, and seven winners get $100,000. 

The FedEx Small Business Grant is a contest that is open to everyone, but highly encourages women SMB owners to apply. Notably, since its inception, every first-prize winner of this grant has been a woman. Each year, ten business owners receive funding from Fedex with prizes ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, plus some amount of services from FedEx. 

The Visa Everywhere Initiative is a global competition for startups and fintech companies that specifically deal with payment and commerce innovation. Prizes range from $10,000 – $50,000 and there’s a Women’s Global Edition which grants two winners with $100,000 each. The Women’s Global Edition brings a social impact element into the mix. 

In addition to grants and contests, there are crowdfunding platforms dedicated to raising money for female entrepreneurs. Try listing your idea on iFundWomen and Women You Should Fund.

Loans

The Small Business Administration is a great go-to for finding resources that connect women-owned businesses with loans. Funding for women-owned businesses typically falls under their 8(a) Business Development program, which helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. Try the SBA’s online Lender Match tool to see what else you may qualify for. 

Next, the SBA also sponsors nearly 100 Women’s Business Centers around the country. These centers help women entrepreneurs access capital, and some, like the California Capital Financial Development Corp., lend money directly to women-owned businesses. The SBA also offers assistance for applying for federal contracts through its Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) Federal Contracting program.

Accion is a nonprofit organization that makes loans to small businesses. Loans can range up to $1 million, and they have specific programs targeting women-owned and minority-owned businesses. They don’t look only at credit scores, and they make an effort to loan to businesses who’ve had trouble getting traditional bank loans.

Union Bank has loan programs for both minority-owned and women-owned businesses. Borrowers must have been in business for at least two years and have annual sales of less than $20 million.

The Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program helps women entrepreneurs who’ve been in business for at least two years access small business loans. The Foundation screens potential borrowers and then connects them to Community Lenders to formally apply for loans.

Venture Capital Investors and Mentorship

Mentorship matters: in one survey, 84% of CEOs said having a mentor helped them avoid costly mistakes. But, it can be difficult for women to access mentorship with the same ease as men. One place to look for potential mentors are the organizations on this list, such as the SBA Women Business Centers, as well as the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC). 

Training and other resources are also available to women entrepreneurs. DreamBuilder, a program by the SBA, helps women entrepreneurs write their first-ever business plan and can be a great starting point if you’re not sure how to get your idea off the ground. Women Who Startup is a network that offers training and workshop opportunities.  

If you’re looking for investors, there are a number of venture capital firms and angel investing networks that focus on women–owned businesses. 37 Angels, for example, invests $50,000 to $200,000 in selected companies. Golden Seeds invests in technology, health care, and consumer products and services. Chloe Capital invests in high-tech companies led by women. Belle Capital invests in companies that have at least one female founder or C-level exec, and/or be willing to recruit top female talent to the C-suite and Board of Directors.

There are many, many resources out there to help women get their business off the ground. And, during the pandemic, more aid and assistance is announced every day. Keep applying to loans and grants, networking with like-minded women, and taking advantage of every resource out there! 

This material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

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