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Realizing the Full Economic Potential of Women Entrepreneurs

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dear Champion of Women Business Owners,

On October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed H.R. 5050, the Women’s Business Ownership Act, establishing the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). One of the achievements of this landmark legislation was the revision of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to ensure that banks could no longer require women to have a male relative co-sign for a business loan. Today, the Council celebrates 29 years of producing high-quality research, inspiring necessary policy change, and supporting the growth of women’s entrepreneurship.

This past fiscal year, the NWBC released the most aggressive research portfolio in its history. Between October 2016 and September 2017, the Council completed: 11 research reports, conducted and presented at over 60 events, hosted four public meetings, was mentioned in over 1,200 publications, and reached a circulation of over 2 billion. Among other topics, the Council studied: supplier diversity programs, social entrepreneurship, commercialization of STEM products, crowdfunding, and millennial, Black, and Hispanic women’s entrepreneurship.

In order for the U.S. and its various regions to reach full economic potential, policymakers at the local, state, and national levels need to effectively coordinate the variety of stakeholders that share the same goal. Earlier this year, the Council unveiled an original model for an ecosystem framework that local governments, entrepreneurial development organizations, and other key resource partners can use to strengthen regional support for women entrepreneurs. The ecosystem approach emphasizes the importance of the overall environment within which an entrepreneur establishes and grows her business. Most importantly, it underscores that the strength of domain connections is as critical as that of any one particular component.

The Council set out to apply this collaboration framework through its Solutions Labs series. In August and September, the Council held conversations in Nashville, TN; Des Moines, IA; Bismarck, ND; and Seattle, WA. These dynamic discussions surfaced a number of policy recommendations grounded in the very connectivity the ecosystem model elevates. NWBC urges policymakers seeking to effectively coordinate stakeholders and realize the full economic potential of women entrepreneurs—and the U.S.—to:

  • Encourage the collaboration of entrepreneurial support organizations at the local level;
  • Invest in infrastructure, especially broadband, in rural areas;
  • Include business owners as vital participants in the continuum of education; and
  • Explore an education loan forgiveness program for entrepreneurs.

1.  Encourage the collaboration of entrepreneurial support organizations at the local level. Helpful resources—such as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Centers, incubators, accelerators, or finance institutions—exist in communities across the country, but these resources may be difficult for women business owners to access or meaningfully leverage. In particular, women may not be aware of the full range of tools or programs available to them in their communities. Furthermore, resource providers may offer duplicative programming or compete for the same sources of grant funding, limiting themselves as well as the full effectiveness of the ecosystem.

Chambers of commerce, mayors’ or city councils’ offices and business organizations should encourage community-level resource marketing and collaboration by:

  • Developing and hosting a web-based repository of effective local resource providers, modeled after NWBC’s Grow Her Business website or budgeting the relatively minimal funding required for a local organization to do so; and
  • Creating incentives, such as grant programs, for collaboration between local entrepreneurial support organizations, so that efforts are amplified, not duplicated.

2.   Invest in infrastructure, especially broadband, in rural areas. A significant number of our nation's entrepreneurs—both men and women—live outside of coastal urban areas. These entrepreneurs indicate that their location can make it difficult to attract outside equity investment. Those who live in rural areas, with limited access to support organizations and commercial or community banks, face even greater challenges in accessing training, mentoring, and capital. Improved access to broadband internet in rural areas will support entrepreneurial development not only by attracting more potential entrepreneurs whose businesses depend on reliable web service, but also by facilitating online access to the very entrepreneurial support services and finance opportunities that these rural areas lack.

  • Consistent with recommendations put forth in the Broadband Opportunity Council’s 2015 report pursuant to the Presidential memorandum on expanding broadband deployment and adoption by addressing regulatory barriers and encouraging investment and training, NWBC recommends that local, state, and federal policymakers “streamline processes and promote interagency coordination to lower barriers to [broadband] investment.”

3.   Include business owners as vital participants in the continuum of education. Small businesses are commonly described as the backbone of the American economy. The success of small businesses, however, is highly correlated with the strength of the labor force they employ. Therefore NWBC encourages improving access to education and training.

  • First, academic business programs should work in partnership with universities and colleges, as well as local entrepreneurial support organizations and entrepreneurs. Specifically, local U.S. Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Centers, Small Businesses Development Centers, and SCORE programs, as well as recipients and stewards of other federal funds, such as SBA micro-lenders and Community Development Financial Institutions, should seek opportunities to present on their resources and provide programming in local business schools and community colleges —just as universities and colleges should create opportunities for these programs to showcase their offerings.
  • Second, state and federal governments should create and strengthen incentives, such as tax credits, for business owners to train and credential employees. Additionally, NWBC encourages increased funding of federal supports to community colleges or other credentialing institutions for specific skills needed by local economies.

4.   Explore an education loan forgiveness program for entrepreneurs. Teachers and public servants who meet certain employment criteria qualify for federal student debt forgiveness programs. Such policies were designed to encourage qualified individuals with college loans to take jobs that contribute to the public good. NWBC research suggests that women business owners are likely to bear more student loan burden than their male counterparts and hypothesizes that these high levels of student debt may discourage entrepreneurship.

  • To that end, NWBC recommends that the federal government explore developing a student loan forgiveness program for startup founders. Forgiven debt levels may be benchmarked to measures of business success, such as demonstration of positive annual revenue, full-time jobs created, or proof of additional investment by other stakeholders, thereby encouraging both entrepreneurship and expansion.

The growth of women business enterprises is unprecedented in today’s society. According to the American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report of 2016, it is estimated that there are now 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, employing nearly 9 million people, and generating over $1.6 trillion in revenues. Women’s appetite for entrepreneurship is at an all-time high. NWBC policy recommendations emphasize the imperative to work across domains—and also across divides--to unlock the tremendous potential of women business enterprises. Together, we can accelerate the future of women’s entrepreneurship.


The National Women’s Business Council


The National Women’s Business Council,, is a non-partisan federal advisory council created to serve as an independent source of advice and policy recommendation to the President, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues of importance to women business owners.