Let’s not beat around the bush. Today’s small business environment makes it incredibly difficult for female entrepreneurs to build successful startups. No matter how much talent or hustle they have, the game is stacked against them. Already, 90% of startups fail, and you can imagine that percentage is even higher for female-founded businesses struggling to find venture capitalist funding and small business loans.
The struggle is real. And it’s also unjustified, especially considering women-led businesses have greater profit potential than businesses with mostly men in the driver’s seat. Because of this, we want to give every women entrepreneur the resources she needs to level the playing field.
Unfortunately, women-only business loans don’t exist. However, a few lenders and loan programs prioritize supporting female small business owners. On top of that, women-only mentorship programs, business grants, and other resources are available to give women the support they need to build successful companies.
To help female small business owners reach the top of their game, we’ve compiled the best-of-the-best resources available.
Accelerators for Female Founders
Accelerators offer startups invaluable mentorship, networks, seed money, and more, but they’re notoriously difficult for female founders to join. That’s where women-only accelerators can help.
Female Founders Alliance (FFA), a relatively new network of female startup founders, has built a free five-week accelerator for women, by women. This program goes beyond finding female entrepreneurs—it also caters to their specific needs. Many competitive accelerators require founders to relocate for three to six months, a feat often impossible for women, who are more often caregivers. FFA’s Ready, Set, Raise, program consists of remote workshops followed by a one-week immersion in Seattle, designed intentionally so women don’t have to uproot their families.
FFA’s not the only one giving women a chance to start businesses. There are a number of other women-only accelerators to consider:
- Women’s Startup Lab
- Merge Lane
- Aviatra Accelerators (formerly Bad Girl Ventures, Inc.)
- Springboard Enterprises
And women-only accelerators aren’t your only option. A few of the most successful seed stage investors happen to be accelerators who have a proven track record of supporting women-led businesses. The following are leading the pack:
Small Business Loans and Grants for Women
Giving away equity is almost always more expensive in the long-run than taking on a bit of debt. A loan gets paid off. But equity costs you a portion of your business, forever. When it comes to finding small business financing for women-owned companies, a few loans stand above the rest.
The Small Business Administration (SBA), like the rest of us, recognizes that women are at a major disadvantage when it comes to business financing. While women-owned small businesses account for almost a third of all US businesses, they only receive 16% of all conventional small business loans (and just 4.4% of the total dollars lent).
The SBA can’t discriminate when lending, but they do take an aggressive approach to securing funding for women. SBA loans for women made up over 21% of total business loans and more than 16% of dollars funded. That’s four times more than financing received through other means!
The 7(a) is one of the most flexible SBA loans (and the most popular). SBA’s 7(a) loans are offered to borrowers through approved partner institutions that have a mission to help women, minorities, and small businesses in underserved areas.
Business Line of Credit
A business line of credit is one of the most flexible forms of financing. Plus, it’s easy to qualify for, and even easier to apply. A business line of credit is there if you need it, but you’re under no obligation to use it. You only pay interest on the funds you use, not the full amount.
A line of credit gives you the safety net you need with the flexibility you want. Whether you’re buying equipment, increasing inventory, hiring staff, paying bills, or renovating the office, a line of credit can cover just about any small business need you have.
Small Business Grants for Female Entrepreneurs
Small business grants can be an even better resource for women business owners. Essentially, a grant is free money that you don’t pay back, ever (unlike a small business loan or credit card). So, you’d guess these grants would be extremely competitive—and you’d be right! But each small business grant is unique and has its own set of requirements, so you never know when you’ll be the most qualified candidate.
Although there are a ton of available grants, a few focus specifically on women. These grants are definitely worth looking into:
- Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program
- Amber Grant
- #GIRLBOSS Foundation Grant
- Cartier Women’s Initiative Award
- FedEx Small Business Grant
- The Halstead Grant
- Open Meadows Foundation
Educational Programs for Women
Knowledge is power, and there are plenty of programs educating women to become the most powerful entrepreneurs in the world. These are just a couple of the incredible resources available for female entrepreneurs.
Women’s Business Centers
Beyond loans, the SBA has a few different programs to help female small business owners learn to run a business, secure financing, and create valuable networks. The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) manages a network of Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) across the entire U.S. There are more than 100 of these centers giving women entrepreneurs a fighting chance by providing management training, technical assistance, certification courses, consulting, and much more.
The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) is the unified voice of more than 10 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. With the NAWBO Institute, women get access to online virtual courses to learn best practices, network, and ultimately get ahead of the curve. The best part is that you can learn at your own pace and focus your attention on growing your business while studying on the side.
Despite the vast challenges female entrepreneurs face, the rate of women-owned startups has been growing close to double that of their male counterparts in recent years. Although these incredible resources don’t completely erase core obstacles, they take a big step in alleviating the hurdles female small business owners face along their entrepreneurial journeys.