Closing the gap for women entrepreneurs | Editorial Columns

I started my first business with a $100 gift card to my name, $9 in my bank account, three kiddos under the age of two and having never had a business class in my life. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a mentor, and I didn’t know anything about […]

I started my first business with a $100 gift card to my name, $9 in my bank account, three kiddos under the age of two and having never had a business class in my life. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a mentor, and I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship.

What I did know was that I could not let another day go by without doing something to fix our educational system. And so, as any determined and passionate person would, I started my first school. Fast forward about 20 years, and that drive and commitment to a vision for better educational options led to opening three schools (and, eventually, an MBA), all still running under the talented leadership of some of the very first employees.

I was lucky. Well, not really. Mostly I worked like crazy and sacrificed a lot, stayed committed to our purpose and got creative when things were tough. But, despite the struggles we had with finding capital to grow, I was lucky that I was an entrepreneur when I was, and not two decades earlier.

Until the practice was repealed in 1988, women entrepreneurs could not get a business loan without male relative cosigner. Congressional hearings of the time were replete with stories of women who had decades of leadership experience and proven track records as founders, but who could not get a business loan without their 17-year-old sons or 85-year-old uncles to co-sign for them. We’ve come a long way — women founders now make up over 40% of the small businesses in the U.S., and women of color are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country. And yet, women-owned businesses receive less than 4.5% of Small Business Administration loan dollars, with lower average loan amounts and higher interest rates (to the tune of 6.5 points higher, on average). Women founders receive 2.2% of total venture capital in the U.S., and for women of color, the numbers are worse: just a third of a percent of venture capital dollars go to companies started by Black women.

Your mind is likely whirling with all of the possible explanations for this funding gap: maybe women don’t ask for money, maybe they are more likely to start lifestyle businesses than growth-focused ones, maybe they aren’t as creditworthy or suffer the financial consequences of divorce and single parenthood at disproportionate rates. Maybe they don’t have access to the same networks and mentors and maybe they struggle more with childcare, caring for aging parents and just generally making ends meet. Maybe all of that is true, but let me share what is not: women are not less capable, less motivated or worse with money. And the impact of the funding gap? If we advanced opportunities to more women entrepreneurs in the form of capital for their small businesses, we could add $28 trillion to the global economy — which is about the size of the economies of the U.S. and China combined.

So, what could this mean for Brunswick and our region? Almost half of our families are led by single moms. And trust me, being a single mom is hard. Being a single mom entrepreneur? Super hard. Being a single mom entrepreneur with nothing but $109, a great plan, a lot of passion, unbeatable perseverance and single-mindedness of purpose? That’s a good investment.

Let’s start investing in our female founders, too, helping them scale their impact and grow our economy. Whether you can give of your time as a mentor, shop at local businesses or have the power to invest capital, let’s bring the opportunities, energy and benefits of entrepreneurship to our region.

The Lucas Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Coastal Georgia launched this year as a way for us all to come together to close the gap for the many entrepreneurs (and potential entrepreneurs) in our community. The Lucas Center’s mission and purpose is to create opportunities for economic empowerment through entrepreneurship, connecting founders and aspiring entrepreneurs with the mentors, peers, resources, education and partners to help their business goals come to life.

I invite you to join us in this mission. If you have extensive professional experience, contact us to become a mentor; if you are an entrepreneur or have a business idea, reach out and we can help you find a path to start or grow; if you offer services, investments or programs for small businesses, connect with us; if you are a student, faculty or staff member, join the Lucas Challenge this fall to build your entrepreneurial skills; and if you don’t see yourself in any of those groups but still want to get involved, reach out anyway and we’ll create this community of support together.

Ande Noktes is the Executive Director of the Lucas Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Coastal Georgia. Ande is a social entrepreneur, founding three schools over the last 20 years. She has an MBA from Emory University and is completing her doctoral work in Law and Policy at Northeastern University researching women entrepreneurs’ access to capital. To connect, reach out to [email protected]

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