Women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the country but obtain capital at disproportionately lower rates than their male colleagues. Women of color are even less represented in obtaining venture capital or business loans. 

A panel at the recent Women’s Business Summit, sponsored by the US Small Business Administration (SBA) highlighted programs and organizations to support increasing access to capital for women owned small businesses.

“Disparities become challenging,” said Mekaella Davis, director of inclusive economies at New York’s Surdna Foundation. The foundation funds and invests in entrepreneurs, focusing on social impact investing, and most of the demand is not centered in the city’s financial district.

“Lots of entrepreneurs are not getting that access,” Davis said. “There’s no help from the community or family. The banking industry has removed banks in their neighborhood. That partnership is not there. These are systemic things, that when you compound them together, really present challenges to women of color entrepreneurs.”

Fortunately, the panel noted a host of private providers who give loans or often can come in alongside a bank lender. Most are more flexible than banks in their underwriting terms.

Additionally, there are revenue sharing options available and innovative venture-like aspects of business loans that may be a better fit for some businesses. The panel noted that there is quite a variety of avenues to capital and that many women entrepreneurs are not being introduced to the right funding products.

“Women often feel disconnected while going through the lending process,” said Marianne Markowitz, CEO of First Women’s Bank. “There are many many women relying on personal credit. Others have access to equity and debt. Unfortunately leaning into equity insead of debt—that can be a very expensive decision.”

Markowitz explained that debt can be overcome, but it is important to hang on to equity.

“The reality is, if you give away too much equity, you give away yourself,” she said. “Make the right decision between debt or equity.”

Markowitz said that her bank is designed to make taking out a loan a comfortable process. When working with a new client, they work to understand their financial acumen and meet them where they are. They also make sure the client fully understands the loan process when they begin and help them all the way through it.  

Finally, the panel agreed that when applying for funding, entrepreneurs need to show up very organized and have their ducks in row. They must be able to outline both personal finance and business experiences. Funders want to see a rock-solid business plan, with research and financials on a written page.

Additionally, entrepreneurs looking for funding should know their numbers and be prepared to discuss them in detail. If there is a wrinkle in the plan, funders want to be shown how those wrinkles can be overcome.  

Those asking for capital must make sure they have three years of personal tax returns, as well as three years of business tax returns. All of that will help make the great impression and is all a part of getting the loan.

The panel also agreed that borrowers need to lean into the SBA resources to  help prepare business plans, strengthen those plans and get capital-ready. The SBA can also help entrepreneurs network with other businesses to gain mentors and advisors.

“Even those whose credit has been affected through the pandemic can still get capital-ready and resources,” said Bailey DeVries, associate administrator in the SBA’s office of investment and innovation. “The SBA is here. We have people dedicated to supporting small business owners and entrepreneurs. We are focused on businesses building a better future and we are dedicated to that.” 

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