WASHINGTON – United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, today held a hearing entitled, “Strengthening the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Minority Women.”  

The hearing focused on the success of the Women’s Business Ownership Act, since it was enacted 25 years ago, as well as increasing access to capital and credit, access to federal contracts and funding for technical assistance and counseling programs.  Sen. Landrieu plans to take the ideas presented by today’s witnesses and use them as the foundation to reauthorize the law - something Congress has not done since 1999.

Testifying before the Committee were U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Deputy Administrator, Marie Johns; Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) National Deputy Director, Alejandra Castillo; Eva Longoria Foundation Founder, Eva Longoria; National Urban League President and CEO, Marc Morial; DSFederal, Inc. Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Sophia Parker; Brighton Enterprises, Inc. and Open-Box Creations, LLC Owner, Ms. Dixie Kolditz; and Lancaster Packaging, Inc. President & CEO, Marianne Lancaster.

“It is critical to the nation’s economic future that we create more success stories,” Senator Landrieu said.  “The most direct way to achieve this goal is to adequately invest in programs that harness the entrepreneurial potential of minority women that will lead to more robust economic growth, increased productivity, and stronger communities.  Any time small business owners achieve success, it leads to more job creation, which boosts the overall economy, benefitting everyone.”

During the hearing, Sen. Landrieu heard testimony from each of the witnesses about the struggles and successes of minority women entrepreneurs.  In particular, the tale of Sophia Parker’s journey from living in Taiwan to becoming a successful American business owner.

“Growing up as a girl in Taiwan, I did not know what it meant to have big dreams,” said Parker, who credited the SBA, along with her own hard work, as major factors in her success.  “I was a top student in my class yet came from a poor family and believed that the highest position I would ever have would be that of a receptionist or a secretary. One day a distant relative returned from America and told me that the streets in America were paved with gold. I was told that as long as you study and work hard, you could do anything. My life was forever changed. I wanted that dream to be more than just a dream. I wanted it to be my life and I was willing to do whatever I had to in order to make it come true.  The success of minority women entrepreneurs like me represents true American success. America’s streets are indeed paved with gold; hearts of gold; for those that mine them through hard work and diligent effort.”

Eva Longoria discussed a joint initiative she has launched with Howard Buffet to make more than $2 million in micro-loans to Latina women entrepreneurs to help get their business off the ground.  She also discussed the importance of reauthorizing the Women’s Business Ownership Act. 

“Since 1988, the Small Business Administration has offered training and financial assistance programs through their Women’s Business Centers,” said Longoria.  “However, without reauthorization from Congress, funding for this program is stuck at the 1999 level.  If Congress really wants to create jobs and increase our global competitiveness, it needs to invest in programs like the Women’s Business Centers, which give Latinas the resources they need to create thriving small businesses.”

The Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 extended the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 to include business credit, required the Census Bureau to more completely count women-owned enterprises, established the National Women’s Business Council and initiated a pilot program of entrepreneurship training that led to the establishment of SBA’s Women’s Business Center program.

Since the law’s enactment, women-owned firms have grown and continue to grow in number and economic stature.  According to a recent report by American Express, from 1997 to 2012, while the number of businesses in the United States increased by 37 percent, the number of women-owned firms increased by 54 percent, a rate of 1 and a half times the national average.  According to that same report, in 2012, these firms had revenues of nearly $1.3 trillion and employed approximately 7.7 million workers.  In that year, the number of women-owned companies increased by 200,000, which is the equivalent to almost 550 new women-owned firms per day.

Since the WBC program was formally authorized in 1991, entrepreneurship and small business ownership among minority women has increased significantly.  According to estimates by the Center for Women’s Business Research, between 1997 and 2004, the number of privately-held firms that are 51 percent or more owned by minority women grew by 54.6 percent, while all privately-held firms in the United States grew by only 9.0 percent in that same time-frame. 

Today, minority women own 1.9 million of the 7.2 million firms with a majority-female ownership, generating $165 billion in revenues and employing 1.2 million people.