August 20, 2014
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Women represent 29 percent of business owners, but just 11 percent of SBA loans in Washington state

Cantwell introduced legislation would expand access to loans and business training for women entrepreneurs

SEATTLE, WA – Women-owned businesses are a growing economic force in Washington state, generating $26 billion and employing 153,000 people. But women entrepreneurs in Washington still face significant challenges in getting fair access to capital when starting their own business, according to a report released today by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

In Washington state, women comprise 29 percent of business owners but receive only 11 percent of the total value of all business loans issued by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), according to the report, 21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship: State of Washington Edition. Nationwide, women receive only 4 percent of all small business loans. In many cases, conventional business loans aren’t tailored to fit the needs of women business owners, according to the report.

“Today, we are releasing a report that shows Washington’s 21st Century barriers to women entrepreneurs,” Cantwell said. “In Washington state, we do have a great number of women entrepreneurs. But just think, how many more great services and great products could be created – and more importantly, how many more jobs – if they had the support and access to capital. We want an economy that has full economic participation. To get that, you need to empower women, and that’s why we are here."

“We are making progress, but we know that many women businesses still do not have equal access to economic opportunity,” said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01), a former businesswoman and entrepreneur who joined Cantwell in a press conference about the report. “We need to do more in the other Washington to advance an economic agenda that supports women, both as business owners and as workers.  I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Cantwell and my colleagues in the House to fight for policies that make sure we build an economy that works for everyone.”

The report follows a Small Business Committee report issued last month that showed women-owned businesses nationally face significant barriers in gaining access to lending that their male counterparts do not. Among the findings in the Washington state report:

  • Growth in Washington state: From 1987 to 2013, the number of women-owned firms increased by 90 percent, compared to the national growth rate of 59 percent. Since 2007, women-owned firms in Washington state have added 5,000 new jobs.
  • Access to lending: Nationwide, just $1 in every $23 of conventional small business loans go to women. The SBA often is a good option for women who are unable to obtain a conventional loan. But in Washington state, women received 11 percent of the value of SBA loans. Nationally, women received 13 percent of the total dollar value. Women also receive just 7 percent of venture funds.
  • Getting relevant business training and counseling: The SBA-operated Women Business Center program was created to help support women-owned businesses get off the ground and has successfully provided training to thousands of women entrepreneurs each year. Washington state has three SBA-operated Women’s Business Centers in Seattle, Lacey, and Spokane. These centers successfully provide business training and counseling to women business owners and have helped start 116 new businesses in 2014. But they continue to operate on funding levels set 15 years ago, despite increasing needs. 
  • Equal access to federal contracts: The federal government has never met its goal of awarding 5 percent of contracts to women-owned businesses – a goal enacted by legislation 20 years ago. In Washington state, the percentage is lower. Women-owned businesses received just 1.6 percent of all federal contracts awarded in Washington state. That translates to $313 million in lost contracting opportunities.

“The state of women’s business ownership today may be best characterized as ‘everywhere and nowhere’,” the report said. “While women entrepreneurs have achieved modest gains in our economy, major gaps and inequalities persist that threaten those gains.”

A copy of the report is available here.

In July, Cantwell introduced legislation – the “Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2014” – that would address the gender gap in lending by expanding or improving SBA programs to reach more women seeking business loans. The legislation would:

  • Expand and improve the SBA Microloan program to reach more women borrowers who need loans of up to $50,000. The legislation would allow Microloan lenders to increase lending capacity from $5 million to $7 million and improve the program to better meet borrowers’ needs through more flexible terms and expanded technical assistance. 
  • Reauthorize the SBA Intermediary Lending program – now a pilot program – to provide more women access to loans between $50,000 and $200,000.
  • Increase funding for the Women’s Business Center program to expand and improve counseling and training services to reach more women entrepreneurs, especially in low-income areas.
  • Allow sole-source contracting for federal contracts awarded through the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract program, which would put women-owned businesses on equal footing with other disadvantaged groups in the contracting process.

The report was released during a press conference and tour of Glassybaby, a successful woman-owned business in Madrona that produces popular handmade glass votives. Founder Lee Rhodes started the company in 2001 after recovering from lung cancer. Rhodes was unable to obtain conventional small business loans even when her business was profitable and ready for growth.  She now has three Seattle stores and one in San Francisco, and has expanded from four to 152 employees. The company donates a portion of its revenue to charities that support those recovering from cancer.

Cantwell and DelBene were joined by Rhodes; Karyn Schwartz, Proprietor of SugarPill apothecary on Capitol Hill – who started her business with an SBA microloan; and Barbara Kasoff, President of Women Impacting Public Policy.