Research shows that women entrepreneurs get only 4 percent of the total dollar value of all small-business loans—a startling low figure considering the rapid growth of women-owned businesses in recent years.
Now there’s momentum on Capitol Hill to help raise their odds.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) introduced a bill recently that aims to increase lending to women-owned ventures. The bill—called the Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2014—nearly doubles funding for Women’s Business Centers, a program overseen by the Small Business Administration that provides counseling and training to women-owned firms. The bill would also open up new federal contracting opportunities for women-owned businesses and expand the SBA microlending program to make them more favorable to women entrepreneurs.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Cantwell said several barriers persist for women-owned ventures when it comes to financing. Male bankers may not understand or appreciate the products and services women business owners sell and many women-owned ventures may be younger, meaning less-tested and, in turn, seemingly less creditworthy. Women business owners need more lending opportunities tailored to their needs. Said Senator Cantwell:
We wanted people to understand that the [gender] gap really existed, and that one of the answers was to tailor lending products for women owners … You have to think about, how are you going to get more women in part of the economic equation? One big way is making sure you're putting capital in the marketplace tailored toward the types of products they would take the most advantage of.
GovTrack.us gives the bill only an 18 percent chance of enactment, and even Senator Cantwell admits that the current “stalemate: in Congress could hurt her bill’s chances of passage this year. Even so, the legislation could spark greater discussion in Washington around how to make the commercial lending world more hospitable to women.
Several studies have found that women encounter major barriers when it comes to getting loans and raising venture capital. One silver lining, however: A recent study finds that women-owned ventures generally outperform men-owned ventures on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.
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