Learn about grants, loans, certifications, and other resources to help start, run, and grow women-owned businesses.
Over the past few decades, there’s been a push to promote women-owned businesses due to historic difficulties females faced in the economic sphere. Traditionally, women have had fewer opportunities to access credit and are less likely to be successful in finding investment for their ideas. They’ve also been underrepresented in the boardroom. Although this is slowly changing, there are still significant hurdles, which is why there are substantial funding opportunities, certifications, and other resources to help women like you run and grow your business. These can include:
Many of these resources are dedicated to helping increase the number of women active in the higher echelons of business.
Women-owned businesses with an active payroll are a distinct minority, with around 19.9% (1.1 million) of the nation’s businesses owned by women, according to the United States Census Bureau. The majority (52%) of these had 1 to 4 employees, and 13.4% had no employees. Only 8% had 20 or more employees.
Large women-owned businesses are similarly a minority, with only one in five firms with revenues of $1 million or more being women-owned. However, this is still an improvement. The total number of women-owned businesses has grown from approximately 4.6% in 1972 to 42% in 2019.
Women of color, which includes Black, Asian, Latina, Native American, and Pacific Islander women, accounted for around 50% of all women-owned businesses but generated a quarter of the revenue.
These are significantly lower than the revenues generated by all businesses. Part of the issue is that 50% of all women-owned businesses are concentrated in three major categories:
These tend to be lower-earning on average than other business categories, and a lot of these businesses are run part-time. As a result, their earning potential is similarly lower.
It’s also worth remembering that these numbers are likely to have been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Financial resources tend to be in the form of grants. These can be government grants, or they can be grants from another entity.
A range of grants is available from various authorities. These can help jumpstart your business if it matches up with an identified need.
Federal government grants are listed on Grants.gov, and these are generally highly sought after. Most grants are available to a limited pool, whether they’re nonprofits, businesses operating in a specific sector, businesses that have a specific skill set, or state-operated entities.
It’s worth thoroughly reviewing each grant carefully to ensure you’re qualified to apply, as those outside the parameters will automatically be rejected.
There’s also Challenge.gov. If your business has an idea linked to one of the challenges that the government has identified as needing to be solved, it may qualify for funding. This can help you expand and develop parallel technologies for later commercial use. In many cases, you’ll be competing against a variety of teams for funding, so it can be a bit hit or miss.
The Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research program provides federally funded opportunities for small businesses to take part in federal research and development. Women-owned small businesses may be prioritized under the program’s mission goals.
Similarly, the Economic Development Administration provides a wide range of funding opportunities for small businesses. Priority is often given to those who intend to create high-quality jobs in areas that are traditionally economically distressed, but it will often offer funding opportunities for areas that have been hit by natural disasters.
However, it’s not just the federal government that provides grants. State governments provide a number of grants, as well. While few are aimed directly at women, there are plenty to help women-owned businesses develop.
Small Business Development Centers provide substantial support for businesses, and they can direct you to suitable state grants. In most cases, they’re linked to the state’s economic development agency, giving them a thorough knowledge of how the process works for each particular state. They may also be able to direct you to municipal grants, which tend to be smaller but also less vied for.
Numerous corporations offer grants for small businesses, helping them get set up, develop ideas, and expand.
American Express, for example, traditionally focuses on nonprofits, but in 2020, it offered a large grant program specifically for Black communities. The company designated at least 25% of those grants for women-owned businesses. This grant offered up to $5,000 for each business. Other companies routinely offer grants as well.
WomensNet Amber Grants
These grants are offered to women who have a passion for business, ranging from scientific inventors to bakers. A single grant of $25,000 is awarded annually, and each month, grants of $10,000 are given out. There are also smaller grants of $2,000 and $1,000, and each month, a business-specific grant of $5,000 is available.
The grant program also awards a marketing grant each month, which provides a professional agency to help develop and execute a marketing plan and hands-on help from the advisory board.
FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
Although the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest isn’t specifically aimed at women, it does encourage women entrepreneurs to apply. It awards a number of grants, including a $50,000 grant plus $7,500 in FedEx office print services. Second place is a $30,000 grant, and in third place are ten $15,000 grants.
There are strict entry and submission, voting, and judging periods, and it’s only open to those who are independent owners and operators of an eligible for-profit small business within the United States. The business has to be more than six months old and have fewer than 99 employees on its payroll. Other terms and conditions do apply.
Cartier Women’s Initiative Regional Awards
The Cartier Women’s Initiative regional awards provide up to $100,000 for seven women-owned and women-run businesses. There’s also a $30,000 grant for the 14 finalists. There are several fellowship programs and social capital support to help women create their own businesses. Businesses should be for-profit, early-stage, generating revenue, and have less than $2 million in dilutive funding. In addition, the business should have met at least one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A full list of the eligibility criteria is on the award website.
There’s also a Science and Technology Pioneer Award. This recognizes female-led advances in technological innovation.
Tory Burch Foundation Grant
This grant awards up to $5,000 to fund business education for eligible women entrepreneurs. This includes virtual education, workshops, and a comprehensive program to help you grow your business. In addition, you get access to an online community.
There are countless other grant programs, and depending on what your business focuses on, you may wish to apply for one or more. There are also extensive options for nonprofits.
Certifications can be useful for proving your status as a women-owned business, and they can open up federal programs and other opportunities.
The National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) offers two types of certification: the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB).
Women-Owned Small Business
To be certified as a WOSB, women must have a controlling stake of the business, and there must not be any conditions attached to that stake. In addition, women must manage day-to-day operations as well as make long-term business decisions. Further conditions include:
Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business
The criteria for the EDWOSB are the same as the WOSB with the following additional criteria:
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification has similar requirements to the National Women’s Business Council’s WOSB certification. These include:
The National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC) offers several certification options, including certification as a minority, veteran, or a woman business enterprise (WBE). The requirements for certification as a WBE are pretty much identical to the previous two certifications:
It also has a women-owned small business and an economically disadvantaged women-owned small business certification.
Women have a range of options when it comes to organizations that can link them up with advice, loans, and sources of information.
The Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) is part of the Small Business Administration. It aims to help women entrepreneurs, especially those who are economically or socially disadvantaged. The OWBO provides:
It does this through the use of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers. Find the one nearest you to learn more about possible support. This is in collaboration with the Association of Women’s Business Centers.
The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce helps provide networking opportunities, delivers access to government contracts, and advocates for women in business. It takes on a wide range of potential barriers to women-owned businesses, and it’s politically active.
Members can join in with meetings, get certifications, and help set policy.
Another politically active organization, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) represents millions of women business owners and has a presence across dozens of states. It aims to increase the number of women in business and improve policy decisions regarding women-owned businesses. It also hosts regular awards and has a range of events throughout the year.
The National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) provides a range of certifications, helps women grow STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) businesses, and encourages women entrepreneurs in rural areas. It also provides a range of roundtable events, webinars, and public meetings.
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) focuses on what it calls its CORE platform: certification, opportunities, resources, and engagement. It provides a certification program to help women access preferential programs; delivers a wide range of programs, events, and networking opportunities for women; offers a wide range of resources; and helps women entrepreneurs engage at all levels.
Depending on where you are, there may be local organizations that also focus on opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Check out state and municipal websites. In addition, your local Women’s Business Center may have further information.
When it comes to setting up and running a business, however, it can be complex to get everything put in place — especially the legal process of creating a business in your state. ZenBusiness offers a range of business formation plans to help you start, run, and grow your business. Check out our options to see which one is right for you.
The National Women’s Business Council, the National Women Business Owners Corporation, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council offer certifications for women-owned businesses.
You can find resources from your local Women’s Business Centers, which are run by the Small Business Administration.
Networking opportunities abound at the state and local levels. Organizations such as the WBENC offer regular networking opportunities, and companies such as SheWorx help women network for venture capital funding.
A woman-owned business is usually defined as one that’s at least 51% owned by women. However, different organizations have slightly different definitions.
There are several minority-focused resources, including Goldman Sachs’s One Million Black Women initiative, the Visa IFundWomen program, and the Lemon-AID Foundation.
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