By Matt Varilek
Special to The SUN
Women-owned small businesses are changing the face of entrepreneurship in America.
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), over 9.1 million businesses are owned by women, generating $1.4 billion in sales as of 2014. Together, these businesses represent one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is fortunate to have been led in recent years by exceptionally accomplished businesswomen, including former administrator Karen Mills and our current administrator, Maria Contreras-Sweet. Under their leadership, the SBA has done more than ever to assist existing and aspiring women entrepreneurs.
But there’s more work to be done.
October is National Women’s Small Business Month. At the SBA, we’re celebrating by recognizing the contributions of women-owned businesses to our economy and highlighting the ways we can help.
Federal contracts, for example, enable small businesses to diversify their revenue streams and meet the needs of public agencies and the citizens they serve. Last year, the SBA helped to ensure that $83 billion in prime contracts went to qualified American small businesses. But women have long been under-represented in a federal contracting marketplace. One of the ways we are working to address this disparity is through the SBA Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, which was launched in 2011 to help ensure more women access federal contracting opportunities. The program authorizes contracting officers to set aside federal contracts for eligible women-owned small businesses. In combination with our other small-business contracting resources, the program is providing new opportunities for women-owned businesses to break into this market.
We expect that these opportunities will continue to increase as more eligible women-owned firms learn about this program and certify that they are eligible to participate. Visit www.sba.gov/wosb for more information.
SBA also helps businesses of all varieties with free and confidential mentoring and training, which we offer through our own staff, as well as our resource partners such as small business development centers (SBDCs) and the SCORE organization. In addition, the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) oversees a national network of almost 100 women’s business centers (WBCs), with at least one located in each state. These centers provide entrepreneurs (especially women who are economically or socially disadvantaged) comprehensive training and counseling on a variety of topics in several languages. Together, this range of counseling resources helps to ensure that no existing or aspiring businessperson will fail for lack of access to sound guidance.
Access to affordable capital continues to be one of the most commonly cited obstacles mentioned by small business owners around the country. We’re helping there too, through our loan guarantees, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, and other related programs.
Continued growth of women-owned businesses is critical to the future of our economy and to fulfilling the promise of “opportunity for all.” Find out more about how the SBA can help at http://www.sba.gov/content/women-owned-businesses, or by calling your local SBA office at (303) 844-2607.