By Marsha Bailey, WEV Founder & CEO
Question: What would compel close to 300 women to put on their best business suits and converge on Capitol Hill on one of the steamiest days of the summer?
Answer: A Senate Committee hearing on a subject that is near and dear to all of us: the status of women-owned business. It was a fitting ending to the annual 3-day conference that brings together the nation’s 100+ Women’s Business Centers to share best practices and meet our peers from across the country.
The Committee’s chair, Senator Maria Cantwell, presided over a hearing that was informative and often raucous. Senator Cantwell gently informed the SRO audience that it was not Senate protocol to clap (or cheer) in the hallowed confines of a Senate hearing room. But it’s a free country, right? The First Amendment? If money is speech, than certainly clapping and cheering is speech. Her admonishment went largely unheeded, an indication of the pent-up passion and enthusiasm for some long overdue attention to a neglected issue. (And I’m pretty sure she was trying hard to suppress a smile.)
The first witness to provide testimony was Barbara Corcoran of the television show, “Shark Tank.” In addressing the problem of women’s lack of access to capital, she shared her observation that when women pitch a business idea to male investors and the business is targeted towards female consumers, the men just don’t get it. Her conclusion, one that is supported by research, is that we need more female venture capitalists and angel investors because women are more likely to invest in other women.
The hearing coincided with the release of the report “21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship.” Senator Cantwell also subsequently introduced a bill: The Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2014, (S.2693). Highlights of the bill:
- Access to Capital: The bill enhances the SBA’s Microloan program and makes the SBA Intermediary Lending Program permanent, providing greater access to capital for women-owned businesses.
- Access to Counseling and Training: The Women’s Business Center (WBC) program serving 150,000 entrepreneurs annually has not been updated in many years. Without adequate funding and changes to modernize the program, these centers will not be able to provide adequate counseling and training that women business owners are seeking.
- Access to the Federal Market: This bill would provide sole source authority in the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Procurement Program. Currently, agencies must find multiple women-owned small businesses interested in and capable of competing for a contract before the WOSB program can be used. Sole source authority removes this burden, making it easier for agencies to award contracts to women through the program.
WEV has received funding from the WBC program since 2003, but the funding cap has been set at $150,000 per center for 25 years and we currently receive $125,000. If the bill passes, the funding cap would increase to $250,000, enabling organizations like WEV to expand their services to fill a very large need.