cassius_butts.jpgThis year marks the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, a landmark piece of legislation that laid the foundation for increased federal support of one of the largest and most important segments of the nation’s economy: women-owned businesses. 

According to a recent report by American Express OPEN, as of 2011 there were more than 8.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 7.7 million people.  The report also estimates that, between 1997 and 2011, women-owned firms increased by 50 percent – a rate of 1.5 times the national average.

Clearly, women-owned firms are a major force in the U.S. economy and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a wide range of programs and services to help women establish and grow their small businesses.

While there aren’t any SBA loan programs specifically for women business owners, the SBA is one of the largest loan guarantors in the country and, according to the Urban Institute, SBA loans are three to five times more likely to go to women than non-SBA loans. The SBA doesn’t lend the money; rather, it provides a guarantee to banks and

other participating lenders for the funds they lend to small businesses owners. 

SBA offers a variety of loan programs through its participating lenders that can be used for most business purposes, such as to purchase or improve real estate, to purchase machinery and equipment and inventory or to assist in the acquisition, operation or expansion of an existing business.

SBA also backs working capital loans and revolving lines of credit, as well as loans to refinance existing debt under certain conditions.

In the SBA’s South Florida District, 177 loans have been approved for women-owned businesses.  These loans account for 19.3 percent of the 919 loans approved during the first half of the fiscal year. In fiscal year 2012, 278 loans were approved for women-owned businesses. 

The opportunities for women-owned business financing is on pace to exceed last year’s figures and indicate a healthy sign for the economy and the credit markets.

SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership oversees more than 100 Women’s Business

Centers (WBC) throughout the United States and its territories, designed to assist women start and grow small businesses. These centers operate with the mission to “level the playing field” for women entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the world of business.

Through the management and technical assistance provided by the centers, entrepreneurs are offered comprehensive training and counseling on a vast array of topics in many languages to help them start and grow their own businesses.  In FY 2012 the WBC network served 137,942 clients throughout the country and supported $40.5 million in capital infusion (loans and equity investment).

There are four WBC’s in the South Florida District.  The Florida’s Women’s Business Center in Delray Beach has two satellite offices in Broward and Lee counties.  There is also a Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech in Melbourne. 

SBA also delivers counseling and training through our network of Small Business Development Centers, SCORE and veterans’ organizations. These organizations offer an inclusive series of relevant seminars and conferences and workshops to help get your idea for a new service or product off the ground – or take your existing enterprise to the next level. These services are low cost or free.  SBA data has shown that

businesses that receive counseling assistance have significantly better survival rates than those that don’t receive similar support.

At the SBA, one of our priorities is making sure that more qualified women-owned small businesses have access to government and commercial supply chain opportunities. That’s why we put the Women’s Contracting Rule into place, meaning that for the first time federal agencies have been able to set aside contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses in more than 300 industries where women are under-represented.

Our latest efforts to engage women-owned small businesses in the federal procurement process is the ChallengeHER Campaign, a new initiative that leverages the resources of SBA and our partners at Women in Public Policy and American Express OPEN to promote the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program and bring more women-owned firms into the federal government’s supply chain. 

You can explore loan programs based on your business profile and needs using SBA’s Loans and Grants Search Tool at or visit SBA’s Small Business Loans and Grants home page. You can take Online Courses for Financing Your Business which explains SBA’s loan programs.

Cassius Butts is regional administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration, based in Atlanta.