On October 25, 2018, the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) celebrated the 30th anniversary of the passage of H.R. 5050, the Women’s Business Ownership Act. Following just 103 days from introduction to passage, President Ronald Reagan signed H.R. 5050 into law on October 25, 1988. This unprecedented piece of legislation eliminated all individual state laws requiring women to have a male relative or husband co-sign a business loan, established the NWBC, the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO), and the women’s business center program.

Congressman John LaFalce (D-NY), Chairman of the House Small Business Committee in 1987, recently reminisced on the passage of H.R.5050, “I was so pleased to learn recently that the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 is now referred to as ‘The Big Bang of Women’s Entrepreneurship in America.’  That’s exactly what I set out to do when I became Chairman of the Committee – to give the economy the biggest bang I possibly could, by tapping an untapped goldmine – women entrepreneurs.” Chairman LaFalce could not have been more right. Today, there are 10 million woman business owners in the United States, accounting for nearly 40% of all businesses.

NWBC is thankful to all of the attendees who came to celebrate and commemorate the passage of H.R. 5050. The program included a reflection of the past 30 years of women’s entrepreneurship, and an impactful discussion on the future of women’s entrepreneurship. The morning began with breakfast and coffee with The Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC). Opening remarks were made by NWBC Executive Director Nina Roque and Assistant Administrator of the SBA’s OWBO Kathleen McShane.

The highlight of the program featured a ‘Fireside Chat’ with NWBC Chair Liz Sara and SBA Administrator Linda McMahon. The Administrator provided insights into her experience as a once small business owner, who spearheaded the expansion and growth of her company, before deciding to join the public sector. Administrator McMahon provided advice to audience members, “Know who your market is and what sets your product or service apart.” NWBC Chair Liza Sara, who is a small business founder herself, agreed, noting that “[women entrepreneurs] must think about what problem or what pain point in the market you are planning to solve.”

The passage of this legislation, and its resulting impact on women business owners, would not have been possible without the incredible and tenacious women who championed its passage. As the program went on, the audience heard from two of the trailblazers that were crucial to the passage of H.R. 5050: Virginia Littlejohn and Phyllis Hill Slater, both of whom served as Council members of the NWBC and have dedicated their careers to advocating for women entrepreneurs. Facilitated by Loreen Gilbert, Chair of The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Development, Littlejohn and Hill Slater shared their experience as delegates to the 1980 and 1986 White House Conferences on Small Business, participating in the congressional hearings, and then leading the charge for passage of H.R. 5050.

The final panel discussion ‘Blazing Trails for the Next 30 Years’, was moderated by current NWBC Council member and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) board member, Rose Wang. Panel participants included Bonnie Nawara, President of AWBC and current NWBC Council member, Deloris Wilson, head of strategy and operations at BEACON: The D.C. Women Founders Initiative, Julia Westfall, CEO of Hera Hub D.C., and Kelly O’Malley, D.C. Chair of The Vinetta Project. The panel provided insights into programming and policies that allow local organizations to help develop thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems for the next generation of women entrepreneurs. Panelists emphasized the value and necessity of mentorship and collaboration.

Thanks to the passage of H.R. 5050, women in business have excelled, continually reaching new heights, and the next 30 years of women’s entrepreneurship is sure to be filled with momentous milestones for women founders. NWBC is committed to continuing to advocate for women in business and to providing a platform to expand and improve opportunities for women business owners and their enterprises.