“Women-owned businesses are obviously not getting their fair share,” said U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) last week at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. “If you look at startups, the percentage of venture capital that goes to women-led startups is under three percent, which defies any possible measure of what is going on.”
Witnesses at the hearing, convened to discuss the ways in which the federal government can empower women-owned businesses, were Candace Waterman, President of Women Impacting Public Policy, which advocates for women entrepreneurs in Congress, as well as Dr. Tammira Lucas, CEO of The Cube Cowork, a Maryland-based coworking space that “[provides] a space where parents no longer have to choose their businesses over their families,” according to Lucas.
During his time to question the witnesses, Hickenlooper mentioned Guild Education as a success story for women-owned businesses.
Based in Denver, Guild Education helps businesses “attract and retain talent, upskill employees, and increase diverse representation at every level, especially the frontline,” according to its website. The company is owned by Rachel Romer Carlson, and was valued at $3.7 billion earlier this year, according to CNBC.
“We’re working on diversifying the pool of asset managers; do you think that will help lead more capital to businesses like yours?” Hickenlooper continued, addressing both witnesses. “What else could the SBA [Small Business Administration] be doing to make sure and facilitate more venture capital going to women-owned businesses?”
Lucas was the first to answer, stressing that financial assistance should be made available.
“One of the problems that small businesses have is access, but it’s access to patience capital,” Lucas told the committee. “If there were funds available — let’s just say $5,000 to $15,000, like a revolving fund — tied to that kind of assistance, there is a good chance that there could be more mom and women-owned businesses to thrive.”
According to Federal Computer Week, a revolving fund is a special account for which money withdrawn or used is replenished without fiscal year limitations. Revolving funds can only be established by an act of Congress.
Following this, Waterman stated the importance of tailoring funding solutions to the businesses in question.
“We need to look at the way that we are funding because it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Waterman said. “We need to meet the businesses where they are to ensure that the methodology is appropriate when providing funding.”
Following this exchange, Hickenlooper used his remaining time on the floor to ask another question of the witnesses — this time, regarding gender disparities in patent applications.
“The people that apply for patents are predominantly men,” Hickenlooper said. “Twelve percent of inventors filing for patents in 2019 were women. That is painfully low.”
He continued, “Is there anything the SBA can be doing to facilitate getting more women into that process of filing patents?”
In her response, Waterman talked about how education can be used to mend these disparities.
“Some people don’t even understand the process, so I would say education is key at all levels to understand, one, how to protect themselves, how to protect their IP, and more importantly how to make an assertion that IP is sustainable,” Waterman said.
“I love that, you’re right,” Hickenlooper responded.
“During the pandemic, women entrepreneurs, especially Black women entrepreneurs, were the most resilient, yet received the least support,” Lucas said at the hearing. “With the lack of capital that already existed pre-pandemic, women entrepreneurs had to figure out a way to survive during and after the pandemic.”
As the hearing came to a close, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the Chair of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, concluded by speaking about the committee’s plans to turn these ideas into policy going forward.
“We are looking at strengthening the tools in the SBA toolkit to deal with the underbanked, underserved communities with women-owned small businesses,” Cardin said. “We’re optimistic, we’re working very closely with the Biden administration, and we are together in our priorities and with our counterparts in the House.”