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As someone who started my own business, I know just how critical it is to talk with other women entrepreneurs. They can help you avoid mistakes, they can help you find the right counselors, lenders, and investors, and they can point you toward the best tools to grow your business.
Those are three great reasons why the Small Business Administration – in partnership with the National Women’s Business Council – has held three Women’s Entrepreneurship summits over the past month. We kicked the series off at the White House on October 4, which can be watched on the White House Website, had a second in Denver on October 19, and a third in Philadelphia just this past Tuesday, October 26.
At each event, a panel of local leaders in the small business community discussed the challenges and opportunities for women-owned small businesses. For example, a panel with both entrepreneurs and Administration officials discussed the fact that women-owned firms are one of the fastest-growing segments of the economy, yet they face more obstacles accessing capital and making hires. Then, the participants broke into groups where we shared ideas for how to put more tools in the hands of women entrepreneurs. This was a good, candid dialogue that helped us learn what’s working and what’s not.
For example, I heard from a woman who owned a construction firm who said Small Business Administration (SBA) loan sizes were too small to meet her financing needs. When we told her how the new Small Business Jobs Act increased SBA loan sizes from $2 million to $5 million, she was immediately interested. In fact, the new law has already resulted in hundreds of SBA Jobs Act loans for women small business owners.
Similarly, some of the women in attendance were reluctant to pursue federal contracting opportunities. But when we told them about a new women’s contracting rule that will help federal agencies set aside more contracts for women-owned firms in over 80 industries, many ears perked up.
We’re looking forward to possibly hosting even more of these events in other locations in early 2011. Our goal is to make sure women-owned firms have all the support they need to keep growing, creating good jobs, and leading America to greater prosperity.
I, for one, wish I had known about all the tools and mentors in the SBA network when I was trying to start my own business many years ago. If you’re interested in learning more about how the SBA can help you start or grow a business, visit our website.
Ana R. Harvey is the Assistant Administrator in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women's Business Ownership