New York City Offers Funding, Credit and Free Programs for Women Entrepreneurs. Here’s a Rundown.

It’s Women’s History Month, but we can celebrate women all year long by making a point to support women-owned businesses each and every day.

March 5, 2020 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

On a hot day in August 2018, I toured an array of small businesses along Tompkins Avenue in Brooklyn. The avenue, widely known as Black Girl Magic Row, is comprised of 15 retail spaces owned by black women. With businesses ranging from vintage clothing stores to yoga studios, customers were in and out of shops while women-business owners were seen making the sales. I think of this avenue as a place where New Yorkers can support and celebrate women-owned businesses, and although it’s Women’s History Month, it’s important every month to highlight the critical role women have in today’s economy. 

Women-owned businesses are on the rise. They make up 39 percent of the 28 million small businesses in the U.S., contribute $1.6 trillion in national revenue and employ nearly nine million people. From 2007 to 2016, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 45 percent, a rate five times faster than the national average. Women-owned enterprises strengthen the national economy, and their growing presence is an indication that we need more of them. 

According to the Centre for Entrepreneurs, many women may also bring a distinct skill set that sets them apart in running a successful business. Women entrepreneurs are reportedly more likely to work towards sustainable business earnings and display greater ambitions to become serial entrepreneurs. But the success of women entrepreneurs should not be taken for granted. While some women may choose entrepreneurship because of opportunity and experience, others choose it because of need. 

Image Credit: NYC Department of Small Business Services

While opportunity-based entrepreneurship happens in order to capitalize on a perceived market opportunity, need-based entrepreneurship occurs because the person lacks a means of generating an income. Many entrepreneurs create businesses out of necessity rather than opportunity. 

For some, need-based entrepreneurship can begin through side hustles, when an entrepreneur balances a full-time job with an additional job. Side hustles are key for those looking to supplement their income, with 75 percent of women starting one for additional income compared to 58 percent of men. Supplementing one’s income is becoming more popular, with 28 percent of millennial women actively seeking and pursuing this type of occupation.  

Non-economic factors may also motivate women to pursue need-based entrepreneurship. The National Women’s Business Council interviewed nine women and found that eight of them cited gender-specific issues as critical motivators for starting their businesses, including workplace discrimination, restrictive workplace policies and societal expectations for childcare and household management. 

No matter the driving factor, it’s important to understand why many women choose entrepreneurship, the challenges they may face and how we as consumers can better support them. 

One potential first step in helping women entrepreneurs is helping to raise awareness about the indisputable barriers they face. Women still own far fewer companies than men. And among women who do own their own businesses, they often face very different challenges than their male counterparts. The unequal access to capital, comparative lack of mentors and the large gender pay gap often present persistent barriers for women entrepreneurs. Additionally, women receive far less venture capital funding than men, totaling 2.2 percent of $130 billion in 2018. They also only make up 9 percent of all VC decision-makers. 

Image Credit: NYC Department of Small Business Services

If women had an equal opportunity to become entrepreneurs, the global GDP could ultimately rise by 3 to 6 percent, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion. We need to do more work to close the prosperity gap. As commissioner of NYC Department of Small Business Services, for me that starts in New York.

In 2015, we published a report highlighting the challenges women entrepreneurs face when starting and growing their business. We then launched Women Entrepreneurs NYC (WE NYC) to attempt to help level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. Programs provide various opportunities: WE Master offers tools and tips that help business owners refine their skill sets, WE Connect connects women entrepreneurs with networking activities and helps to build potential mentorship relationships, and WE Legal provides women entrepreneurs with a range of support and legal services aimed at negotiation and legal protection — such as negotiating a fair lease on commercial space, reviewing human resource documentation and protecting their intellectual property. Finally, there’s WE Fund, which helps women entrepreneurs access the capital they need to grow their businesses, and WE Fund Credit, a business line of credit of up to $100,000 for women entrepreneurs with limited credit history. 

The City of Boston has adopted a similar program, Women Entrepreneurs Boston (WE BOS). WE BOS aims to provide the skill-building opportunities, technical help and networks to help women entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. 

Yes, it’s Women’s History Month, but we can celebrate women all year long by supporting women-owned businesses each and every day. 

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