In 2015, we'd all like to believe that women entrepreneurs have equal access to business funding as compared to their male counterparts. But the unfortunate reality is that while 30% of small businesses in the United States are female-owned, these women receive only 4.4% of total small business loan dollars.
Female entrepreneurs receive only 16% of conventional loans and 17% of SBA backed loans, and even when they are approved, female small business owners receive significantly smaller loan amounts than their male peers.
The good news, however, is that the U.S. Small Business Administration and many other nonprofit and for-profit organizations have recognized this disparity and are actively working to improve the financing climate for women entrepreneurs.
If you need funding to start or grow your woman-owned small business or startup, consider these female-friendly investment, loan, and grant opportunities.
Angel Investors and Venture Capital
Within the sphere of financing available specifically to women-owned businesses, venture capitalists and angel investors offer the widest range of options. A variety of angel investment organizations have their sights set on finding the next generation of female business leaders and investing in their success.
The capital investment route isn't for everyone. Because venture capitalists do expect some level of return on their investment, smaller women owned businesses with limited growth trajectories and profit margins can struggle to access investor funding.
But if you're a female entrepreneur with your sights set on enterprise level business growth, consider whether one of the angel investment opportunities may be a good fit for your needs.
Astia's mission is to promote angel investment opportunities for women-owned ventures by connecting eligible businesses with interested investors. By applying for Astia's Expert Sift program, you can have your business screened for eligibility to pitch directly to Astia's network of angel investors. For selected applicants, Astia's program provides not only essential business capital, but also the valuable advice and connections available from veteran angel investors.
This angel investment organization has invested over $70 million in more than 65 women-led companies since 2005, and that number continues to grow. And because Golden Seeds focuses specifically on early stage startups, it could be a great option for first round funding if you've only been in business for a short time. Like Astia, Golden Seeds also offers coaching and connection opportunities to help their successfully funded women entrepreneurs succeed. If you're a brand new startup with an enterprise level growth trajectory, you might consider applying for funding through Golden Seeds.
This network of angel investors is on a mission to not only increase the amount of funds available to women owned businesses, but also increase the number of women entrepreneurs involved in angel investing. While 37 Angels invests in both women-led and male-led companies, the perspective and mentoring of these female angel investors can be of particular benefit to aspiring female entrepreneurs.
At five pitch forums per year, 37 Angels matches 6-8 high potential early stage businesses (out of 400+ applicants) with between $50 and $150K of seed capital funds, along with mentoring and coaching from their angel investors.
Though the availability is more limited, grants can be a great opportunity to to grow your business without the pressure of making loan payments or providing dividends to investors. These small business grant programs focus specifically on providing funds to women-owned businesses.
The Amber Grant
Launched in 1998, the Amber Grant program was created in honor of a nineteen year old woman who sadly passed away before she was able to make her entrepreneurial dreams come true. Through small grants of $500 to $2,500, the Amber Grant program helps young female micro-entrepreneurs gain a foothold toward launching their businesses and accessing larger investment opportunities.
Although the grant amount itself is not huge, winning the Amber Grant may give female entrepreneurs the confidence and the starting push they need to successfully advocate for more funding in the future. It is also an excellent option for first-time small business owners because compared with other funding options, the Amber Grant requires little to no financial paperwork to apply.
Eileen Fisher Women Owned Business Grant Program
Female owners of established small businesses may benefit from Eileen Fisher's Women Owned Business Grant Program, which awards $100,000 in grants annually for up to 10 grant recipients. To be eligible, businesses must be majority (at least 51%) woman owned, have been in operation for at least three years, and be founded on principles of creating environmental and social change.
While applications are currently closed for 2015, the next round of grant applications will be open in April of next year. Read more here about whether your company may be a good fit for the Eileen Fisher Women Owned Business Grant.
Small Business Loans for Women
If your business's trajectory isn't a great fit for capital investors and you need more funding than grants can provide, you may be interested in small business loan opportunities tailored specifically to women entrepreneurs. Both the SBA and private enterprises have initiatives available to provide female business owners more access to small business loans.
Elizabeth Street Capital
Named for the location of designer and entrepreneur Tory Burch's first ever clothing boutique, Elizabeth Street Capital is an initiative launched by the designer to make small business loans more accessible to women like herself.
Through her Tory Burch Foundation, the designer has partnered with Bank of America to provide funding, mentorship, and support to female entrepreneurs across the country. Bank of America offered an initial $10 million capital investment in the program, with individual loan amounts ranging from $500 to $50,000.
SBA Loan Programs
The U.S. Small Business Administration's loan programs make concerted effort to provide equal representation and opportunities for female entrepreneurs, as well as all business owners with minority status. Consider applying for an SBA backed loan through your community bank through the SBA 7(a) or 504 loan program. While these loans aren't directly funded by the SBA, the administration provides guarantees that help lenders make funds available to female business owners.
For small business owners seeking under $50,000 in borrowed funding, the SBA also provides a Microloan program which gives special consideration to women and minority-owned businesses. Unlike the 7(a) and 504 programs, the Microloan program is funded by the Small Business Administration, though the loans are operated by third party intermediary providers.
In addition to these loan programs, the Small Business Administration also offers a Woman-Owned Business Program that provides education and resources such as access to grants, funding, and even federal contracts to businesses that are at least 51% owned and controlled by women, focusing particularly in 83 industries where women are underrepresented. Contact your local SBA office to determine what resources may be available to your small business through this program.
Obviously we still have a long way to go in the journey toward equal representation for women in the business funding space--but we are certainly seeing progress. The SBA's loan programs alone saw a 66% increase in capital made available to women from 2009 to 2014. And with the organizations above leading the charge, the push for traditional and alternative lenders, venture capitalists, and investors across the small business and startup community are sure to follow close behind in this growing push toward entrepreneurial gender equality.