The Center for an Urban Future has just released "Breaking Through: Harnessing The Economic Potential For Women Entrepreneurs". The comprehensive study was made possible through Capital One's Future Edge initiative, a $150 million, five-year effort to help more American workers and entrepreneurs succeed in the 21st century economy. Through Future Edge, Capital One works with hundreds of leading community and nonprofit organizations, including microfinance and micro-lending organizations empowering women entrepreneurs such as Grameen America, Accion, and the Business Outreach Center Network.

As the study states:

As technology disrupts entire industries in New York City, another disruption is taking place right alongside--a flood of women entrepreneurs in virtually every industry in the city. Women founders of all ages, races and ethnicities are creating jobs, bolstering the city's economy, strengthening families and neighborhoods, and providing new and creative solutions to the problems of modern life.

Unleashing all this economic potential--so that it is more than solopreneurs, home-based and "mom" shops--is also a massive opportunity to grown and diversify New York City's economy. As the study notes:

If only one-quarter of the existing 376,405 women-owned businesses in New York City with no employees added a single employee in the next three years, it would result in more than 94,000 new jobs.

With just about every big opportunity comes both long-term solutions and immediate so-called "low-hanging fruit" fixes. From the "Breaking Through" study, here are 21 ideas New York City can start acting upon today, to unleash all this languishing economic potential:

  1. Focus On Scaling And Growth. 91 percent of all businesses owned by women in New York City --376,000 in all--do not have any employees. While some percentage of women business owners may want to remain solopreneurs, there's undoubtedly a decent number in that 91 percent who want the opportunity and help to scale up some their enterprise. While New York 's Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and the Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), have a variety of programs for small business owners, the majority of these programs are focused on entrepreneurs starting new businesses. What would it take to refocus some of these programs from starting to scaling?
  2. Target Entrepreneurs With Home-Based Businesses. Thousands of women operate home-based businesses--heck, for many entrepreneurs it was the practical, cost-effective way to get their venture off-the-ground (lean before lean startup was a trend). It is also isolating, especially if you want to bounce ideas off someone. Here's an idea: why not offer up online workshops or webinars specifically geared to helping home-based business owners scale, connect with experienced mentors and seeking advice in real-time from peers.
  3. Improve The Marketing Of Existing Programs. Have you heard of "Strategic Steps for Growth"? Did you know this business assistance program operates in all five boroughs--and its impressive program (offered in 70 cities nationally to minority and women business owners providing the knowledge, know-how and relationships they need to grow their businesses) in New York City is typically at less than full capacity? Time to implement a little Marketing 101 on this and other programs!
  4. Show Her The Money, Honey. Innovation and growth requires funding. New York City, with the help of philanthropic and corporate partners, should establish an innovation fund to support programs in each borough that are focused on assisting small businesses owned by women to grow into medium-sized and large businesses.
  5. Help Her Ship It. 99.5 percent of women small business owners in the U.S. do not have sales outside of the United States (according to research from the National Women's Business Council (NWBC)). Ouch! That's a lot of untapped economic opportunity waiting to be unleashed with the assistance of how-to-export roadmap and doors being strategically opened.
  6. Certify Her. Winning a government contract is time-consuming and lucrative. As the springboard for growth (and sustained growth at that), steps should be taken to make it easier, faster and less administrative for women-own businesses to become certified as well, what they are--enterprises owned and managed by women (currently only 1,481 companies in New York City are even certified as women business enterprises (WBEs)).
  7. Put A Number On It. More WBEs is great--assuming they really have a chance of winning more government contracts. Long-standing relationships and business as usual is hard to budge, so how about setting a goal of giving more business to the girls (say, doubling the number of women owned businesses that win contracts with city agencies over the next four years)? In case you were wondering, at present in New York City, just 1.5 percent of city spending goes to women owned businesses....and this is a city where 40 percent of all businesses are owned by women. Enough said.
  8. Move Women Up The Supply Chain. That small percentage of WBEs which have been awarded city government contracts, could likely use some assistance (introductions, guidance) in order to break into the corporate supply chain or obtain equivalent contracts with the federal and state government. This is information and relationships the city could leverage to help these business owners win contracts and expand their operations (hello! increased revenue for the city).
  9. Safety First, But Re-examine Those Restrictions. Child care is not just a woman's issue, it's a business challenge. Recently adopted regulations that make it nearly impossible for anyone to open up a second or third childcare establishment in New York City--even it you're an entrepreneur running a safe, thriving businesses with a waiting list. Is all that new regulation really necessary
  10. Boomer Entrepreneurs Are Booming. Youth does not have a monopoly on entrepreneurship. In a city where the number of residents 65 years and over is expected to increase by 41 percent between 2010 and 2040, it's time to switch some of the focus from college-aged aspiring entrepreneurs to the seasoned, established, over 50 crowd. And yes, the majority of this dynamic, aging population in New York are women: women account for 60 percent of all New Yorkers who are 65 and older--626,079 out of the city's 1,046,671 seniors.
  11. Think Outside the Box When it Comes to Capital. Women-owned businesses typically are capital efficient and strapped for cash. There are many non-traditional forms of lending available for women business owners who may not have the credit history to receive a traditional loan. Grameen America is a terrific example of a nonprofit microfinance organization whose goal is to provide grants to women looking to start their own businesses and propel their lives forward. is another great platform that offers low-interest crowdfunded micro loans to help start or grow their business. For additional resources, check out Spark Business IQ.
  12. Skip The Fee. New York City's Capital Access program guarantees up to 40 percent of eligible loans from participating lenders to small businesses--at a cost to lenders. Why not drop the fee in exchange for making smaller dollar loans?
  13. Give Credit Where Credit Is Due. Haul in the regulators! Bank regulators should clarify how and when banks will get credit under the federal Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) for making small loans to women and minorities with interest rates under 10 percent.
  14. Offer More Than Rejection. Standard practice when turning down someone for a loan should be more than a form letter. Some of these women entrepreneurs may have no idea that other, nontraditional lending opportunities exist (such as microloans), so why not proactively provide that information to them? That woman entrepreneur may not be a coveted bank client today but with a little forward-thinking customer TLC, she could be in the future.
  15. Child Care Starts In The Accelerator. While it is terrific that the city offers counseling services to entrepreneurs and small business owners, it's hard to take advantage of these services if you're also CEO of the home, with sole responsibility for childcare. New York City should ensure some of the city's existing small business centers, accelerators or incubators offer on site childcare services so child-rearing business owner aren't further disadvantaged.
  16. Can't Have Too Many Mentors. While it is terrific that the city launched WEConnectMentors, an initiative bringing women professionals and female entrepreneurs across the five boroughs together, the inaugural program has 17 mentors. In a city with over 400,000 women-owned businesses, a more scalable mentoring solution is needed.
  17. Help Her SCORE. Only nine of the 63 SCORE counselors in New York City (14 percent) are women. SCORE is highly regarded for the quality of its advice and mentoring services for small business owners (over 5,000 were helped last year) and as more women entrepreneurs are seeking female mentors....
  18. Make A Match. Having a co-founder likely means you're thinking bigger about the possibilities for your business. In fact, a report on women entrepreneurship by the Global Research Monitor (GEM) research consortium states "economies with a higher percentage of women entrepreneurs starting in teams of three or more also have a greater proportion of those with job creation ambitions." City-facilitated peer networks could go a long way in not only sharing information, but scaling ambition.
  19. Facilitate The Introductions. Whether it is an annual showcase or quarterly pitch event, the city has relationships with key decision-makers (bankers, venture capitalists, investors)--the networks and vital relationships women business-owners need. Figure out a variety of ways to meaningfully connect them.
  20. Get More Pocketbooks On The Investing Table. New York City is pretty darn fortunate to have a champion for women entrepreneurs and business owners in Joanne Wilson. She is action not simply word of sympathetic support (100+ angel investments and growing plus creating the highly successful WE Festival for women entrepreneurs), but she's one woman in a city full of highly successful women, who could be writing checks. New York City needs more Joannes.
  21. Improve The Tech Talent Pipeline. The economy of the future is happening now and it is tech-based. As tech ventures have the greatest potential to scale, more women need to enter this sector. Women currently make up only 28 percent of those working in computer systems design, the largest of the industries that make up New York's tech sector. Women are a mere 33 percent of the workforce in the city's software publishing subsector and 38 percent in the data processing and hosting industry.

Have more ideas on how to unleash the economic potential of women entrepreneurs in New York or other cities? Tweet your suggestions to me @jkhoey.


Thanks to Capital One for funding the "Breaking Through" study and sponsoring this post."Breaking Through" is a publication of the Center for an Urban Future made possible through Capital One's Future Edge initiative. Capital One's Future Edge initiative is a $150 million, five-year effort to help more American workers and entrepreneurs succeed in the 21st century economy. Through Future Edge, Capital One works with hundreds of leading community and nonprofit organizations in NYC and beyond, including micro-finance and micro-lending organizations empowering women entrepreneurs such as Grameen America, Accion, and the Business Outreach Center Network. Learn more at or join the conversation on Twitter at @YourFutureEdge #StartedByHer.