There are 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, comprising 40% of all U.S. businesses and generating an estimated $1.8 trillion annually according to the National Association of Women Business Owners. The integral role women play in entrepreneurship and job creation is not new, but opportunities for funding, government contracts, and mentorship have some catching up to do.
This is where the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is able to step in. The federal agency encourages entrepreneurship by Americans of all stripes, but the SBA recently added a significant amount of additional resources specifically for women-owned businesses. These changes include a major expansion to the nationwide network of SBA Women’s Business Centers and the launch of a new digital learning platform called Ascent.
The following provides an overview of these programs and other SBA resources that women-owned businesses can leverage as they launch their venture or seek ways to enhance an existing one.
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What is the SBA’s Ascent program and how can it help my business?
SBA launched Ascent, an interactive digital elearning platform intended to help women entrepreneurs grow and expand their businesses, on January 8, 2021. Women entrepreneurs and business owners are encouraged to register at the website for free. Ascent provides videos and other media, divided into five main topics, or “journeys.” The five main topics include:
- Disaster and Economic Recovery
- Strategic Marketing
- Your People
- Your Business Financial Strategy
- Access to Capital
The journeys are further divided into smaller subtopics, or “excursions.” For example, the Access to Capital journey is further broken down into six excursions to help you assess your needs and explore options, whether you’re seeking debt financing or perfecting your pitch to equity investors. Furthermore, each excursion is made up of a few “paths.” The Debt Funding excursion, for instance, includes an online tutorial on how to examine your loan agreement and prepare for the loan underwriting process.
What is the SBA’s network of Women’s Business Centers and how can it help my business?
SBA’s network of nearly 300 Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) provides training, technical assistance, and counseling for women entrepreneurs. The free resources offered typically include access to consultants and seminars on small business funding, human resources, and other important topics. While they receive federal funding and support through the SBA, each WBC is managed locally and addresses the particular needs and concerns of its local community.
AnewAmerica Women’s Business Center in San Jose, for instance, offers formal, long-term training programs, short-term evening and weekend classes, and video tutorials (in both English and Spanish) on small business finance and accounting.
What changes are planned for Women’s Business Centers in 2021?
On January 4, SBA announced the launch of 20 new Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). This is the largest such expansion in the program since its launch 30 years ago and will be focused on underserved communities. The expansion also bolsters SBA’s partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The new WBCs are now open and located throughout the United States in both rural and urban areas.
Are there other SBA resources specifically for women-owned businesses?
The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO), which oversees the agency’s WBC network, coordinates programs that target women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses. The OWBO also ensures that women-owned businesses have adequate preparation for, and access to, funding, federal contracts, and other such resources. There is also some overlap with other programs intended to help traditionally underserved individuals, including women and minorities, start and maintain businesses.
In addition to resources offered through WBCs and the newly-launched Ascent program, SBA assistance for women-owned businesses includes:
- 8(a) Business Development program. This program sets aside a portion of federal contracting and mentorship opportunities for individuals who are economically and socially disadvantaged (including women).
- Lender Match. Search through the database of SBA-approved lenders to help with your funding needs and visit the agency’s Loans section to learn more.
- Women Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) federal contracting program. This initiative helps women-owned businesses position themselves for contracting opportunities, with the goal of awarding at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women each year.
- National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). While it is not part of the SBA, the NWBC is a federal advisory council focused on providing guidance to other agencies on how best to serve the needs of women-owned businesses.
- DreamBuilder. Similar to Ascent, DreamBuilder provides free, comprehensive training programs for aspiring women entrepreneurs in both English and Spanish. The program consists of 13 interactive training courses that are delivered online and culminate in a certificate of completion.
Realize your entrepreneur potential today
It’s often noted that periods of economic uncertainty or even downturn are ideal for launching a new business. Still, women typically have a more difficult time accessing capital and other resources, regardless of the merits of their business plan. But, while building a successful business is never easy, you can improve your odds of making it work by leveraging available help from the SBA and elsewhere. If you need fast and affordable answers for your particular business questions, don’t hesitate to contact a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.