Women’s History Month is an opportunity to celebrate all the contributions of women in our history. This includes the American woman entrepreneur – a steadfast innovator for more than 200 years. From the likes of CJ Walker, the 19th Century hair magnate and activist, to tech pioneers of today, women have always been adept business owners.
In recent years, it was the incredible boom of women-owned businesses that played a key role in the economic recovery. Now, with more than 10 million women entrepreneurs starting and growing their own companies, it is critical that business assistance be available to all of them.
Enter Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). A network of more than 100 organizations providing training and counseling nationwide, WBCs can be the difference in a business surviving. In fact, a study from the ASPEN Institute found that businesses that receive the kind of assistance WBCs provide are significantly more likely to remain in business after five years.
In 2016, more than 145,000 entrepreneurs across the United States took advantage of these services. But, what kind of services do these centers provide?
From developing a business plan to providing access to capital, WBCs leverage internal and external expertise to help women entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. For some, this is helping understand a client base, the likelihood of success and sharing successful strategies of new companies. More tangibly, it can be training on the technology used to run a 21st century business.
A good example is the education around financial literacy, and the use of programs such as QuickBooks®. Intuit® has partnered with WBCs by providing free QuickBooks products to train clients in using the software, in order to help them manage financial tasks, such as creating invoices, producing reports and tracking expenses. This kind of support helps ensure that the nonprofit organizations can achieve their mission.
Supporting the efforts of these important institutions is the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC), a national nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1998. Our pillars of work center around sharing best practices, advocacy and communication. WBCs are public-private partnerships, so ensuring that there are dedicated resources at the federal level is a top priority of the association. Right now, AWBC is working with the United States Congress to modernize the program and maximize the entrepreneurs that can be served by WBCs.
Equally important is ensuring that WBCs are communicating with one another about the best training and counseling methods, available technologies, and opportunities to partner. Each year, for example, AWBC holds the Women’s Business Centers Leadership Conference, where WBC staff from across the country meets to share successes, challenges and engage government in important entrepreneurial dialogue. It is also an opportunity for partners to share new technologies and training to benefit women business owners. Intuit, as one of those partners, provides train-the-trainer information and updates to build the capacity of the WBCs, in order to deliver effective programming. This year’s conference will be in Alexandria, Va., in September.
As president and CEO of the organization, my priorities include enhancing the AWBC’s visibility and influence in the women’s business development arena, increasing the membership and member engagement, and creating long-term sustainability. Often, this requires traveling the country to meet with WBC Directors and hearing about the incredible businesses they have helped achieve success. My most important role is aggregating these amazing stories into a cohesive narrative about the future of women entrepreneurs.
With the help of our partners, from the U.S. Small Business Administration to private companies such as Intuit, we know the future of women entrepreneurs is bright. And, that is worth celebrating every month of the year.