By Emilia DiMenco, President & CEO, Women’s Business Development Center
As a retired banker and now President and CEO of the Women’s Business Development Center, I have focused my entire professional career on helping small business owners access capital for growth. As any business owner will tell you, financing is critical to business growth.
Traditional bank financing is attractive because of its typically low interest rates. Yet women business owners – who generate more than $1 trillion annually in receipts, and are growing at 1.5 times the rate of average businesses – are consistently denied bank loans. In 2013, less than one in three loan applications for women-owned firms were approved.
A 2014 report issued by the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship on barriers to women’s entrepreneurship found that women receive only 16 percent of conventional small business loans. This amounts to 4.4 percent of the total dollar value of all small business loans, leaving women-owned firms with only $1 out of every $23 that is being loaned to small businesses.
WBDC observes this problem firsthand when a fast-growing female entrepreneur wins a corporate or government contract, then has trouble getting the capital she needs to fill the order. If she’s denied loans, she has a couple of options: she either turns to unregulated, predatory merchant cash-advance lenders or other high-interest sources of capital, or her business stagnates.
The real solution lies in the hands of federal policymakers who have a responsibility to make changes which will help women get capital at a fair interest rate. As a start, policymakers must improve the SBA 7A program’s standards to allow sales from new and prospective contracts to be taken into consideration when approving a loan — not simply a company’s historic cash flow. Next, they must Increase funding for non-profit alternative lenders such as Community Development Financial Institutions and micro-lenders. Finally, they must provide transparency and disclosure for small business lending so that small businesses are informed upfront of interest rates, fees, and other terms.
New measures are desperately needed now to remove the barriers to financing that most women entrepreneurs face. Until that happens, woman-owned businesses won’t grow at the speed and to the levels they could. Sadly, that will impact all of us.
Emilia DiMenco is president and CEO of the Women’s Business Development Center, a Chicago-based economic empowerment organization serving a nine-state Midwest region, which provides programs and services to prospective, emerging and established women business owners. For more information, visit www.wbdc.org.
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WIPP is a nonpartisan public policy organization advocating on behalf of women business owners across the country, including its coalition of 79 business organizations. WIPP identifies important trends and opportunities and provides a collaborative model for the public and private sectors to increase the economic power of women-owned businesses.