Today is International Women’s Day, an annual opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women across the globe. This year’s theme of #BeBoldForChange arises at a time when women’s issues are sparking action across the country and in the White House. The “Day Without a Woman” campaign takes place today, which follows President Trump’s recent address to Congress, when he recognized women’s issues as a top priority of his administration.
For the more than ten million women business owners across the United States, being bold is a 365-days-a-year mentality. The risks of entrepreneurship that these women face are exactly the kind of actions deserving of recognition on this day.
Take for example, Kari Warberg Block, founder and CEO of Earth-Kind. She began her business selling potpourri packets from ingredients grown in her garden. Over time, her passion for environmentally friendly solutions evolved potpourri into non-poisonous rodent repellant. Today her company employs thirty-five people and has revenues of more than $10 million.
A turning point for the company came at a sales trip to Minneapolis, coordinated by her local Women’s Business Center (WBC), the North Dakota Women’s Business Center. More valuable than the contracts won that day, the trip and the WBC inspired her vision for growth.
The Women’s Business Center Program, a public-private partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA), is an ongoing success story.
For nearly three decades, the national network of WBCs has strengthened the ability of nearly two million women entrepreneurs, like Kari, to start and grow their businesses. During the last decade, the number of women-owned businesses has increased by forty-five percent and added more than 340,000 jobs to our economy.
While all WBCs provide business training and counseling, many do much more. Sixty-fourpercent of WBCs assist in two or more languages, totaling more than thirty-five languages overall. Nearly half of WBCs provide direct loans and more than 75 percent help in procuring government contracts.
WBCs do more than help ventures launch, they also play a vital role in helping established businesses grow. Cheryl Snead, President and CEO of Banneker Industries in Rhode Island, never thought her business would need the training services offered by her local WBC, the Center for Women & Enterprise (CWE). The twenty-six-year old company had succeeded in becoming a leading supply chain management and third party logistics provider without additional training.
But at a key turning point for the company, Cheryl took the advice to attend a ten-week course offered by CWE on access to capital, which included angel investing, debt financing, and venture capital. A few months later, she had a refined business plan, a strong pitch and the financing she needed. In her own words, Cheryl concluded, “I take my hat off to CWE and the programming that they offer, not just for startups, but for companies that want to take their business to the next level.”
Stories like Cheryl’s and Kari’s are two very different examples of how WBCs are catalyzing growth for women business owners. Whether it’s helping a new venture find its legs or assisting a well-established company expand, WBCs are providing the needed link for business success. That success has a powerful impact on the US economy.
Perhaps that is why the program has received bipartisan support – a testament to its efficacy in today’s Washington. Efforts to dissolve SBA programming in past Administrations stalled when faced with the well-documented impact of such training. Notably, the mortality rate of small businesses has always hovered around fifty percent and above, but those entrepreneurs who receive training, like that of WBCs, had a success rate of eighty percent. In other words, a little guidance can make a big difference.
Women’s Business Centers, however, could do so much more.
Efforts to bring the program into the 21st century require the attention of Congress and the Administration. Centers are forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time on bureaucratic minutiae—time better spent training more business owners. Equally important is growing the program, as the nation’s women business owner population climbs above ten million, many of whom can benefit from the training WBCs provide. Ensuring those businesses are succeeding in five years is the kind of policymaking all sides can agree on.
The state of women entrepreneurs is strong. As Americans reflect on International Women’s Day, the efforts of the centers, their employees, and most importantly the risk-taking entrepreneurs they serve should not be forgotten.
Antonella Pianalto is the President & CEO of the Association of Women’s Business Centers, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.