Women are gaining new ground in the workplace, and this momentum is encouraging more women each year to start their own business. However, studies continue to show that women have access to fewer business and entrepreneurship opportunities than their male counterparts, and also have a more difficult time attaining the funding they need to grow their firms and survive during periods of financial adversity.
If you’re a woman entrepreneur just starting out, and you’re footing extra expenses with your credit cards, or trying to build credit with a secured credit card while you manage your day-to-day operations, a small business grant could help allay some of your stresses and help you focus more on generating new clients. Other alternative funding models for bringing in capital, like crowdfunding, are worth checking out too. Different types of funding present certain advantages over others, and exploring all your options can keep you from getting discouraged and abandoning your plans.
First, here are several small business grants aimed specifically at women to keep in mind:
This grants money from the U.S Small Business Association to small “businesses with the most innovative offerings that help empower women’s lives and fill a marketplace need,” Andrea Roebker, regional spokeswoman for the SBA, said. Last year’s winners received increased awards of $40,000, $20,000 and $10,000 respectively, provided by Microsoft. First place went to Elizabeth Caven from UpCraft Club, a digital sewing pattern company.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards
The winner is awarded $100,000 in prize money, a spot with the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship 6-Day Executive Programme (INSEAD is a graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East), one-on-one business mentoring, media visibility and networking opportunities. According to its website, Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards seeks early phase “committed female entrepreneurs heading initiatives with the potential to grow significantly in the years to come.”
Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Businesses Grant
Each year, this grant awards $120,000 to up to 10 businesses (minimum grant $12,000). Grant recipients are also invited to New York for two days of learning and celebration. The grant “supports innovative, women-owned companies that are beyond the start-up phase and ready to expand their business and their potential for positive social and environmental impact.”
Tory Burch Foundation
This fellows program for women entrepreneurs provides recipients with a one-year fellowship, a $10,000 grant for business education, a three-day workshop, and the opportunity to receive a $100,000 investment grant. “They are focused on U.S. based early stage businesses in any for-profit sector,” said Deb Meyer, CEO of both WorthyNest, a fee-only financial planning firm, and Statera Vitae, an accounting firm for visionary thinkers and entrepreneurs.
Launched by Womansnet to honor a young woman named Amber who died at 19 before fulfilling her dreams, these $500 grants are awarded monthly along with a separate, annual prize of $1,000. The grant’s primary focus is to assist women in starting small, home-based or online businesses.
It pays to check what’s available in your area.
A $2,000 grant in New York, for example, is given twice each year through the Suffolk County Women’s Business Enterprise Coalition.
“In St. Louis, Missouri, there are some local grants programs that allow men and women to apply but place special emphasis on women and minority-owned businesses,” according to Deb Meyer. Some examples include: Arch Grants ($50,000), BALSA Grant ($5,000), and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. The PWE Start-up Accelerator takes a $50k equity stake in women-owned companies twice each year and provides mentorship for a 3-month business development program, said Meyer.
Federal small business grants can be found through government databases, or the U.S. Small Business Association also has regional offices with free and low-cost training on the nuts and bolts of starting and maintaining a business.
“You don’t have to go it alone,” Erin Andrews, SBA’s assistant administrator of Women’s Business Ownership, said.
Your local district office often has direct relationships with banks and funding partners, she said.
Kickstarter and GoFundMe
Crowdfunding tools online can also help level the playing field for female entrepreneurs.
New studies show that women actually outperform their male counterparts in crowdfunding campaigns – due in part to their ability to use storytelling skills to their advantage. According to research by Andreea Gorbatai of UC Berkeley, “women’s typical use of vivid, positive, emotional and inclusive language and less frequent use of money or business-related term can be very effective.”
GoFundMe is one crowdfunding website that has shown positive results for personal causes. For example, Lauren Puryear, founder of For the Love of Others, recently launched a campaign for her goal of a “Foodtruck to feed 30k” homeless people. Kickstarter is more often used to fund business ideas and projects.
By using crowdfunding, women entrepreneurs manage to bypass certain prejudices that present an ongoing challenge when seeking funding in more traditional ways. These sites allow new start-ups to target the right audience, present a story, and attract meaningful capital to the cause.
Gender dynamics continue to influence who is allowed to participate in business, but today’s women entrepreneurs are finding creative ways to access the same kind of capital that men do to fund their dreams.
Christine Giordano is an editor and reporter for Credit.com who covers a variety of personal finance topics. A former staff writer for the New York Times Company, she is an award-winning journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @chrisgiordano.