Women entrepreneurs are more bullish than men on revenues and hiring, but remain frustrated by limited access to funds
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- Business Insider attended an event in New York kicking off National Women's Small Business Month to hear from female entrepreneurs about their experiences and strategies for growing their businesses.
- Bank of America hosted the event and released its fourth annual report on the most pressing issues facing women small business owners.
- The report, which was conducted with Ipsos Public Affairs, found that 58% of women say they don't have the same access to capital as men. Only 42% of men share that opinion.
- Women entrepreneurs were more bullish than their male counterparts on some indicators like revenues and hiring, but remain frustrated by limited access to capital.
- The fourth annual Owner Spotlight asked a national sample of women-owned small businesses about their business outlook, financing options, societal issues, and other keys to success.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
When entrepreneur Camille Newman went in search of financing to run her business, she says she was met with a barrage of questions she felt were both invasive and insulting. She had an award-winning business plan and an underserved customer base, but could not raise the operating cash to keep going.
Newman, an African-American woman and the granddaughter of a tailor, started her high-fashion business, Pop Up Plus, as a series of private shopping parties for size 14 and up women like herself. Over the past nine years, Pop Up Plus transformed into an e-commerce site that's hosted pop-up retail experiences around New York.
This summer, Newman ran into cash flow challenges and could not secure the credit to continue growing her business - so she began to wind the company down. And she's not alone.
Through her involvement as a counselor with Brooklyn Women's Business Center at the Local Development Corporation East New York, Newman has worked with others grappling with the emotional experience of closing up shop.
"Access to capital is the number one issue," she said. "You could have good credit and a good balance sheet, and still have problems getting funding. I see it with my clients and in my own business."
Optimism in the face of persistent challenges
Newman and about 50 other women and men gathered at the Luminary collaboration space in New York on Tuesday evening to kick off National Women's Small Business Month, where a panel of women discussed their experiences in entrepreneurship and the challenges of building a business in a male-dominated marketplace.
Anchoring the discussion was the release of the fourth annual Women Business Owner Spotlight report from Bank of America and Ipsos Public Affairs. The study's top-line - that women entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly optimistic about near-term opportunities - was well-received by the attendees, who represented a diverse cross-section of businesses and backgrounds.
Behind the optimism is a more sobering fact: more than 30 years after Congress outlawed gender discrimination by lenders, 58% of women surveyed say they still have unequal access to capital. In addition, nearly a quarter of women surveyed said they believe female entrepreneurs will never achieve the same capital access as men.
"It's disappointing - I don't want that," said Sharon Miller, Bank of America's Head of Small Business, in an interview. "I want everyone to understand that there is equal access to capital. Bank of America's response is 'come in, and let's help you grow your business.'"
Miller said that women are actually over-represented among Bank of America small business clients, compared with the general population, and pointed to increasing representation of women in upper management and local branches at the company as evidence of the company's attitude toward equal opportunity.
"Whether you're a man or a women, it's a business," she said.
The fact remains that the decision-makers in the business world are mostly men, and leaders of either gender tend to be white. The majority of male business owners in the survey, by the way, said they believe women already have equal access to funding.
Drawing strength and support from diversity
At the Spotlight event, women of color described feeling either invisible or shunned as they navigated the business world. Panelist Deepti Sharma spoke candidly about the obstacles she faced as she built her food-service company.
"Venture funders were asking me when I was going to have kids," Sharma said. "Even my friends and relatives don't ask that!"
After watching men she felt had weaker proposals successfully build their funding base, she realized she needed to take a bolder, riskier approach to networking.
"Now I pitch myself for everything," she said. "I get a lot of No's, but I also get some great Yes's."
Also of note: For the first time in the survey's four-year history, women reported stronger intentions than men on expanding operations, raising revenue, and hiring workers.
Shannon Miller expressed hope that the outlook will translate into more women approaching her bank earlier in their development. "Women in general think they have to have it all right before they come in," she said.
"Come in sooner, rather than later when you need the money, so that you can work with someone that's going you understand what you need to do to get a loan," Miller said.
Speaking on the panel, Miller added she wants women entrepreneurs to know the bank is there for more than just financing. It can also be a source of advice and insights about how to refine an idea.
"It does no one - not you, not the bank, not your community - any good if your business fails," she said.
According to the survey, more than half of women believe their local business conditions were improving, but looking ahead to the coming year, they reported a heightened concern over consumer spending and trade issues than they were six months ago.
As important as all of these factors are, the crowd murmured in agreement when Sharma said women entrepreneurs want one thing most of all.
"Don't tell me I have a nice business," she said. "Buy from me."
If you or someone you know runs a women's small business with a story to share, please email Dominick at email@example.com