By Jeremy Field, regional administrator, Pacific Northwest, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
Imagine being a business owner applying for loan and being told in order to qualify for financing you need a male co-signer. Believe it or not, this was legal in some states as recent as the 1980s until the passage of The Women’s Business Ownership Act in 1988.
It’s hard to believe practices like this have existed in our lifetime. But if you listen to women entrepreneurs, stories like this are common. They demonstrate the journey for women entrepreneurs is challenging and requires strength, grit and perseverance. During Women’s History Month, we salute women entrepreneurs who take risks in pursuit of their passions and who see setbacks as steps to something bigger and better.
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners, there are nearly 188,000 women-owned small businesses in Washington state. And that number is on the rise. In fact, there was an 18.8 percent increase from the previous survey.
While we’ve made progress from the days of unfair lending laws, there is still much work to be done. That is why the U.S. Small Business Administration has several programs to narrow the gap and make resources and success more accessible to women entrepreneurs.
One of the ways we do this is through our network of Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). These centers seek to level the playing field for all women entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the business world.
Businesses that receive assistance from WBCs – like the Washington Women’s Business Center in Seattle – see a significantly better success rate than those without similar support. Through our WBC network, women entrepreneurs receive technical training, one-on-one business advising, and the resources they need to confidently and successfully start and grow their business.
A second way the SBA works to level the playing field for women is through government contracting. Every year, the federal government spends billions of dollars on goods and services. The government has a goal that 5 percent of federal contracts be awarded to women-owned small businesses, a goal we want to meet and exceed.
By obtaining a Women-Owned Small Business or Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business certification at certify.sba.gov, those businesses are then eligible to compete for set-aside federal contracts. This can really open the door for a small business to expand substantially. In fact, during FY 2017, a total of $20.8 billion in prime government contracts were awarded to women-owned small business supporting more than 115,000 jobs. And more than 82,000 jobs were created or supported through the $15 billion in federal subcontracting to women-owned small businesses.
Finally, SBA district offices – together with our network of resource partners – provide opportunities for direct access to lenders and industry experts. They host lender panels, access to capital workshops and free events like The Million Dollar Women’s Panel in Seattle on March 22.
Knowing the right person can make a world of difference. We want to do everything we can to connect women entrepreneurs with the right people so they can spend less time trying to get a seat at the table and more time growing their business.
While March is a time for us to reflect on the history of women in our country, it’s also a time to look forward. Today we stand to support women entrepreneurs so that we can have a future of equality and thriving businesses owned by our country’s most determined and innovative women.
Jeremy Field is the regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Pacific Northwest Region. The SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small businesses with resources to start, grow, expand or recover.