February 24, 2023 By Suzanne Robertson

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to learn more about the importance of women-owned businesses. The SmartBiz team® is honored to work with women entrepreneurs every day who contribute to the overall U.S. economy through small business ownership. Here’s what you need to know about Women’s History Month and the support available for female entrepreneurs.

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What is Women’s History Month?

This recognition began in 1978 when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women celebrated “Women’s History Week” in Santa Rosa, California. 

International Women’s Day falls on March 8 this year. The movement spread to other communities, so, in 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians asked the federal government for recognition. President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the week of March 8, 1980 to be National Women’s History Week, citing in his proclamation that the “achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” The recognition was renewed by later presidents until 1987, when Congress designated March as “Women’s History Month.”

This year’s theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories”.  According to the National Women’s History Alliance, the theme was chosen to honor the earliest storytellers through pioneering journalists, artists, teachers, authors, songwriters, scholars, playwrights, and performers. Women’s stories, and the larger human story, expand understanding and strengthen connections with each other.

Challenges faced by women entrepreneurs 

Women who own businesses face unique challenges. In fact, up until 1988, women needed a man to co-sign their business loan! Although that’s not the case anymore, women still come up against roadblocks when trying to access business-building funds.

In fact, loans to women make up only about 4 percent of all commercial loan dollars.

At SmartBiz, we’re proud that more than 30% of the 7(a) SBA loans we’ve facilitated through our bank partners were granted to women-owned businesses, a number significantly higher than the national average. 

How do women entrepreneurs contribute to the economy?

The US has 12.3 million women-owned businesses that generate $1.8 trillion a year. 40% of US businesses are women-owned. Women entrepreneurs are socially powerful in terms of education, environmental concerns, and making a positive impact on society.

Women’s business resources

Here are some resources that can support female entrepreneurs across America. 

WBE Certification  

Two women’s business organizations certify WBEs: the WBENC® (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) and the NWBOC® (National Women Business Owners Corporation).

WBE certification is necessary if you wish to participate in programs that require tracking the amount of business done with women-owned enterprises. Most local, state and federal government purchasing agencies have programs for woman-owned businesses. To become WBE certified, you must show:

  • Woman Ownership: You must prove that the business is 51% owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women.
  • Time in business: Your company must have been in business for at least six months.
  • US citizens: The owner or owners must be US citizens or legal resident aliens.
  • Contribution of capital: The woman business owner or owners must show that the contribution of capital is real and in proportion to the ownership interest in the business.

Grant options for women-owned businesses 

Here are some good places to start your search for public or private grant opportunities:

  • Grants.gov
  • Challenge.gov
  • SBIR.gov
  • GrantsforWomen.org

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)

Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) offer management and business counseling services. The SBDC is the SBA’s largest non-financing program and is a collaboration of SBA funding along with state and private resources. Currently, more than 950 service centers handle counseling and training needs of roughly 650,000 clients annually.

Manufacturing, procurement, technology transfer, disaster recovery, technology, market research and international trade are emphasized. To learn more about the SBDC program or to locate an SBDC near you, visit the SBA's website.

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Office of Women's Business Ownership

The Office of Women’s Business Ownership’s mission is to enable and empower women entrepreneurs. Economically or socially disadvantaged women are offered training and counseling in many languages to help them start and grow their own businesses.

Office of Entrepreneurship Education

Here’s the mission statement of this  office:

“The Office of Entrepreneurship Education's mission is to provide entrepreneurial information and education, resources and tools to help small businesses succeed. The office is an integral component of Entrepreneurial Development's network of training and counseling services.”

Women-Owned Business Success Story 

SmartBiz is proud of our record of supporting minority-owned businesses, including women-owned. In 2022, we reconnected with Katie Basson who runs her million-dollar company from a home office in Newburyport, MA. 

Birch Tree Promotions® specializes in high-end promotional products for a variety of clients across the U.S. From customized leather bags to branded fleece, Birch Tree offers clients unique flair and stellar service. Basson says the best part of being a female small business owner is that you have limitless possibilities. “If I keep working hard I can create something that will grow and last.”

Fulfilling orders, shipping, and supply chain issues started almost immediately when the pandemic began. “Everything stopped. In process orders were canceled and we weren't sure when we’d be back in the office,” Katie says. Her business was able to pivot successfully in the new normal. “In summer 2021, our customers got into the rhythm and groove for remote work. We created cool wellness packages for work-from-home employees.” 

Katie received two forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans during the pandemic through her local bank and used the funds for payroll. Since then, she’s added a full time project manager and a part time web developer to her remote team. She fully automated the fulfillment process through a new platform that facilitates packing and same day shipping. 

Katie says, “It’s an exciting time for women. I’m hoping to see a wellspring of entrepreneurship. Working from home has worked very well for me. When I started my business, I liked being in the house when they came home.” 

Katie believes that she’s been working with big companies because they sought out a woman owned business, meeting diversity goals. So far, the big business driver has been word-of-mouth. 

Additional resources 

Want to learn more about the women who have been granted an SBA loan facilitated by SmartBiz Loans? Check out these small business stories on the SmartBiz Blog:

Visit the SmartBiz blog for additional information to help your business move forward and thrive. 

Women in business aren’t just recognized for one month. National Business Women's Week® is celebrated every year during the third week of October. This week provides a valuable opportunity to recognize and honor working women, and employers who support working women and their families. Stay tuned for information about how to celebrate this important observation.

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