woman on phone at computer
Women in business still face many obstacles but there is work in progress that can make things more equal. — Getty Images/jacoblund

Entrepreneurship in the United States has come a long way from the days when a male was required to co-sign for a woman so she could access financial capital — a barrier that was broken with the Women's Business Ownership Act of 1988. However, women still face many obstacles in business.

To close out Women’s History Month, the U.S Chamber of Commerce hosted an event entitled “Equality of Opportunity in Action: Accelerating Impact for Female Entrepreneurs.” This program focused on the changes ahead for women in business and highlighted successful female entrepreneurs who have made an impact and are paving the way for the next generation.

Creating resources (and history) to help female entrepreneurs

The pandemic has caused hardships for many across the country — particularly, and disproportionately, impacting women. To give women what they need to succeed, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is making history by building 24 new women’s businesses centers, said Natalie Madeira Cofield, the assistant administrator for the SBA’s Office of Women's Business Ownership.

“We're going to keep pushing the needle because we're making up for lost time in some instances,” Cofield said. “I'm proud of the fact that we'll have a women's business center in every state in the country by 2022, but it shouldn't take us [until] 2022 to get there.

[Read: Why COVID-19 Is Hurting More Women-Owned Businesses]

Helping underserved entrepreneurs to fight systematic barriers in business

Working more closely with underserved communities is a key way to provide support for women-owned businesses. Luz Urrutia, the chief executive officer of Accion Opportunity Fund (AOF), discussed how her nonprofit organization provides support to under-invested small business owners through affordable loans and resources, such as coaching and support networks.

People of color, women and immigrants make up more than 90% of the business owners AOF works with, as these groups are often left behind by traditional financial systems. Whether it's due to lack of credit, not having traditional documentation, their businesses being too small, not having enough time in business or systemic barriers, these communities are commonly underserved.

“When it comes down to what resources small businesses need, we connect entrepreneurs with capital and educational resources and coaching because we believe that the two combined are really what can have lasting impact to drive economic mobility across the important community that is entrepreneurs,” Urrutia said.

[Read: 10 Entrepreneurial Quotes to Keep You Motivated Through Tough Times]

Accelerating growth through networking

For any entrepreneur, a strong focus on networking can help take their business to the next level. This is especially true for female founders, as the right connections can open doors that may be harder to access as a woman.

“It's about how can you get those folks around the table who kind of fill in the gaps,” said Betsy Fore, the co-founder of Tiny Organic. “When you get this advisory board around you, it just gives you the wings that you need to open up the network to say ‘Hey, I'm here and I'm trying to make an impact and a difference.’”

For women like Fore who don’t readily have access to networking and funding opportunities in their home communities, there are plenty of ways to create their own opportunities by applying to nationwide corporate and government grant programs.

“There wasn't that kind of opportunity within my community,” she said. “What I did is actually went and got a $50,000 grant. Now … [I’ve] raised over $20 million for my business, [and I] couldn't have done that without that initial grant. I think [it’s about] just taking every opportunity that you can to get something off the ground.”

Learning lessons and tapping into your resourcefulness

Every business owner will encounter failure at some point during their entrepreneurial journey To overcome this, Kisha Mays, the president and CEO of Just Fearless and HERstory Connections, advised entrepreneurs to change their perspective to see failures as lessons learned.

It’s a lot easier to absorb lessons and not repeat them when viewed through that lens, she said, because it’s not necessarily about winning or losing – it’s about knowing that, “I’m going to learn a very valuable lesson, so I don't lose,” said Mays.

She also noted that resourcefulness is key when it comes to growing your business.

“You can have the greatest work ethic, the greatest idea or … the minimum viable product, but [you have to be] resourceful … to find a way to make it happen,” Mays explained. “You're taking a risk on yourself, so … do whatever it takes.”

Watch the full “Equality of Opportunity in Action” panel on U.S. Chamber OnDemand.

[Read: How to Build a Stronger Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Women]

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Published March 28, 2022