Take advantage of opportunities for women-owned business

By Andrew Zashin*

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

More women than ever before are starting companies and becoming small business owners. Depending on which source you are looking at, anywhere between 8 million and 10 million businesses in the United States are owned by women. Those businesses employ an estimated 7.9 million people, and generate revenues of nearly $1.5 trillion each year.

With numbers like that, it will likely surprise you to hear that a recent study published by professors from Harvard Business School, Wharton School and MIT Sloane School – three of the nation’s top business schools – found that men receive significantly more venture capital than do women. The reasons for that are not entirely clear, but the study does suggest that some level of unconscious gender bias might be at work. Irrespective of the reasons, though, it is clear that it you are starting or building your business, it makes good sense to make use of all available information and opportunity available to you.

So, then, what are some resources and opportunities?

Websites are a great place to start gathering information, to connect with other business owners, and maybe even to locate a mentor. Sites like The Boss Network, Chic CEO, Ladies Who Launch, Entrepreneur, Daily Muse, Women 2.0, and many others, provide online networking opportunities and lots of great, informative, articles.

Local and national groups provide great information and mentoring and networking opportunities, as well as access to research and education and financing opportunities. Check out the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, the American Business Women’s Association, the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Association of Women’s Business Centers, the National Association for Female Executives, and the Center for Women’s Business Research, just to name a few.

The Ohio Development Services Agency’s Women’s Business Program has consolidated a tremendous list of resources for everything from microloans and angel funding, to field specific information. Even here at the local level, a number of initiatives, Meetup and LinkedIn groups, local chapters of national organizations, and other groups are available and just a quick Internet search away.

And, then, there are the funding initiatives directed specifically toward female entrepreneurs. The Women’s Venture Capital Fund, for example, focuses on female-run businesses in both technology and environmental sustainability. Make Mine a Million awards grants to businesses looking to grow their revenue to $1 million. The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program awards grant money to female owned businesses focused on social consciousness, sustainability and innovation. And that is just a fraction of the available help out there. Check out WomenOwned.com to search thousands of grant and assistance offers.

Women may still be in the minority of business owners and they may find it more challenging to secure investment funding for a myriad of reasons. But, fortunately, there are a wide variety of resources and opportunities out there aiming to bridge that gender gap. A little research will turn up answers to all of your questions, provide suggestions to help you put your best foot forward, and give you the resources you need to make your business succeed.

*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.