Resources for Women Entrepreneurs - Accion Opportunity Fund
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Resources for Women Entrepreneurs

Take inspiration from the successful women entrepreneurs out there and go out and make your mark as a small business owner.


When it comes to women’s small businesses today, there’s a lot to celebrate. Currently, women and women-led companies are driving entrepreneurship in the U.S. Women are founding their own businesses at 2.5 times the national rate. Nationwide, there are now nearly 13 million women-owned businesses. The growth rate of women-owned businesses increased by 3.9% between 2014 and 2019, as compared to a 1.9% increase by all other businesses.

This business boom is largely driven by women entrepreneurs of color. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of minority women-owned businesses grew at double the rate of businesses owned by non-minority women entrepreneurs (43% compared to 21%). Not only are women opening businesses at a breakneck pace, but they’re succeeding – businesses with gender and ethnic diversity on their leadership teams are actually more profitable than businesses without diversity. In 2019, women-owned businesses accounted for $1.9 trillion in revenue!

In addition to starting up successful new businesses at an astounding rate, women entrepreneurs are part of a broader movement to make communities better for all. Women-owned businesses have boosted employment rates; employing more than 8 million people nationwide. In addition, many women-owned businesses are actively involved in their local communities. That boosts both the local and national economy, as well as hometown morale.

One of the most important steps to start up any business, no matter who owns it, is getting funding. Unfortunately, that’s often more difficult for women than for men. What’s going on?


Basic Funding Options for Women-Owned Businesses

When looking for funding, most people immediately think of getting a bank loan. But it can be tough to get a loan for a new business, since you won’t have any credit history. It can also be tough to get a small loan; banks often have minimum loan amounts so they can focus their resources on bigger, more profitable loans. In addition to all that, small business bank lending is down 20% in recent years due to increased regulation and financial turmoil.

The problem is even more severe for women- and minority-owned businesses. Generally, these businesses start out with less capital. They’re less likely to be approved for bank loans and when they are approved, it’s for smaller amounts. Because of those limitations, they’re more vulnerable to predatory lending. So, where can women and minority business owners go to get the capital they need? Alternative financing options. These potential sources include:

  • Family and friends
  • Credit cards
  • Venture Capital
  • Angel Investors
  • Economic development agencies
  • Start-up programs
  • Grants
  • Personal savings
  • Home equity
  • Equipment financing
  • Receivables
  • Bank loans
  • Small Business Administration (SBA)-guaranteed loans
  • Community development financial institutions (CDFIs)
  • Microloans
  • Community banks
  • Credit unions
  • Merchant Cash Advance
  • Online lenders
  • Online marketplace lenders
  • Crowdfunding
  • Incubators

All of these options have pros and cons – family and friends are often a good way to start, although that can lead to tension. Credit cards may be easy, but you run the risk of getting stuck in high-interest debt. Working with third parties such as incubators, angel investors, and venture capitalists can give you the benefit of their business expertise, but you’ll have to do things their way and give up a chunk (sometimes a big chunk) of your ownership.

Essentially, you’ll need to compare all of your funding options to see what you can get and what fits your needs. Remember that the easiest source isn’t necessarily the best one – there are lots of predatory lenders out there hoping to catch you in a revolving door of debt. In the worst case, that can sink your business.

One option that may be right for you is a microloan. These smaller loans are typically easier to get than bank loans and many microlenders offer training and mentoring. Accion Opportunity Fund is one such microlender.

Accion Opportunity Fund Partners With Women-Owned Businesses

Accion Opportunity Fund is a national non-profit business lender. Accion Opportunity Fund does offer broad loan options of all sizes and types to fit each individual small business owner’s needs. Their lending program is extremely successful. Approximately 97% of Accion Opportunity Fund-funded companies are still in business when interviewed one year after receiving their loans.

Unlike traditional banks and other lenders, Accion Opportunity Fund takes a holistic lending approach to fund small businesses. We look beyond the typical numbers, such as the FICO score, and give weight to the unique strength and character of each small business. We want to get to know you as a person and an entrepreneur, rather than just a list of numbers. Accion Opportunity Fund recognizes the vital importance of women-owned small businesses, granting many loans to women, minorities, and lower-income clients.

We also partners with business owners every step of the way. This individualized attention starts with the loan application itself. Lending consultants help prospective business owners prepare the best loan application they can.

In addition to lending services, Accion Opportunity Fund provides online resources and training for small business owners.


Questions to Consider When Pursuing a Small Business Loan

Many women-owned businesses find that pursuing a loan is the best way to fund their small business. It’s a good way to vet your business plan (your lender will go over it with a fine-tooth comb and point out potential problems). It’s a good way to start building business credit and business relationships with your lender. It’s also a good way to get the cash you need without potentially stirring up tension with your friends and family or giving up ownership.

Whether you’re pursuing a traditional loan or a microloan, you need to ask yourself a few questions to make sure you’re getting what you need.

  • What do you need the money for?
  • How much money do you need?
  • How long until you can pay the loan back?
  • What is the current financial state of your business?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How much collateral do you need?
  • How soon do you need the funds?
  • Do you qualify for traditional loans?
  • Do you want mentoring, training, and support from your lender?

No matter which loan you chose to fund your small business, experts advise being aware of the Borrower’s Bill of Rights to protect yourself from predatory lending practices. For more information on the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, visit this resource.

Women-Owned Businesses Are On The Rise

Women-owned businesses face unique challenges in addition to funding. Women-owned businesses employ over 8 million people in the US. But only 2% of those businesses have more than 10 employees and 91% are sole proprietorships. In other words, women-owned businesses tend to stay small.

But there’s good news. Even though male business owners outnumber women owners in every age group, that gap is narrowing. It’s the smallest among those under the age of 25, meaning younger women are increasingly able to overcome some of the challenges facing women business owners. Minority women are also most strongly represented in the under-25 set. The ethnic gap is closing overall – the number of minority women-owned businesses grew by more than 300% from 2002-2012, meaning 4 in 10 women-owned businesses are owned by minorities.

A Minority Woman-Owned Business Success Story

If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than Lisa Spradley Dunn, CEO and Founder of Odyssey Media. She spent 14 years at IBM honing her skills and then stepped out on her own. Now, she runs a major media company that works with Fortune 500 companies on multicultural marketing strategies and networking with powerful multicultural women. She has terrific advice for any woman planning to start a business, especially when it comes to getting funding.

Dunn found that she had a hard time getting funding. So, she found a way to get the banks and investors to listen – she sent in her clients! They acted as her representatives and that showed lenders and investors that her business was successful and had the capacity for growth. If people won’t listen to you, you can enlist the help of someone they will listen to.

She also points out that many minority women business owners don’t believe they can get investments or funding from their own communities – and that’s not true! All you need to do is reach out to your network and ask. One year, Dunn needed to raise $1 million. She did it by contacting a large network and getting a lot of small amounts rather than a couple of big ones. Today, you may be able to recreate that kind of process via crowdfunding, and you can always just go out and pound the pavement in the old-fashioned way.

Finally, Dunn explains that you need a great pitch. And it’s not about being hard on yourself – you need to portray yourself as a winner. Tell your story, she says, and that’s a great way to show that you have passion for what you do. Preparation is key, and Dunn recommends having your 6 C’s of Credit ready to go for your pitch:

  • Character
  • Capacity
  • Capital
  • Collateral
  • Conditions
  • Cash flow

Make sure your image and presentation are professional and powerful. Show that you’re invested in your business and that you’ve done the work to set yourself up for success. Take her advice – she knows what she’s doing!

Women-Owned Businesses Are Changing the World

Women are making their mark on the world of entrepreneurship by starting and growing their businesses at an astounding rate. With the proper tools, funding, and education, each and every aspiring woman business owner can create their own success story. Women have more resources than ever for funding and the gaps between male- and women-owned businesses are shrinking all the time. Take inspiration from the successful women business owners out there and go out and make your mark!

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