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Weekend edition April 01, 2022 | Tom Ballard

SBA holds two-day virtual summit as “Women’s History Month” concludes

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

As part of the just concluded celebration of “Women’s History Month,” the Office of Women’s Business Ownership within the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center hosted a virtual “Women’s Business Summit” earlier this week.

Held over two days and offering about 11 hours of programming – individual speakers, panels and “Ask an Expert” sessions, the event also featured an announcement of what were described as “impactful reforms to the agency’s Community Advantage (CA) loan program, a key SBA tool for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Community Development Companies (CDCs), microlenders and other critical mission-based lending partners, that prioritizes equitable access to capital for low-income borrowers and those from underserved communities.”

Due to scheduling challenges, we were able to tune-in to just one session that was focused on programs and organizations that support increased access to capital for women-owned small businesses, ranging from a main street retail operation to a high-tech start-up. That discussion, lasting about 45 minutes, covered the full continuum of funding options.

The panel was moderated by Gené Teare, Senior Data Journalist at Crunchbase, an organization whose reports we frequently reference in Her panelists (pictured here) were:

  • Mekaelia Davis, Director of Inclusive Economies at the Surdna Foundation, a more than 100 year old organization focused on serving the needy;
  • Bailey DeVries, Associate Administrator in SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation where the focus is on Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs), Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards, and the “Growth Accelerator Fund Competition”;
  • Marianne Markowitz, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at First Women’s Bank, the only women-founded, women-owned, and women-led commercial bank in the U.S. with a strategic focus on the women’s economy; and
  • Susan Au Allen, CEO and National President of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce.

Markowitz, who served as SBA’s Acting Administrator for a few months and was a Regional Administrator for seven years, set the tone of the discussion in her introductory comments. “There a gender gap in lending, and it’s not just equity,” she said. Noting that the national focus of First Women’s Bank is on SBA lending, Markowitz said it is a “centerpiece of our plans,” in part because the government guarantee “lowers our risk.”

Au Allen observed that women control $14 trillion of all wealth today and the number will grow to where they control a majority by 2050, yet women only secure about two percent of investments today. “We need to get women controlling that money more involved,” she suggested.

Davis talked about the need for more financial education for women, describing the Foundation’s goal as helping women understand “where to find the right capital for your business.” It could be debt, equity, grants or some combination. “We think about that entire continuum,” Davis said.

Later, Markowitz echoed Davis’ point about more financial education to understand the right options that are available. “Women are sometimes leaning into equity at the wrong time,” she said.

DeVries talked about the various SBA programs, noting that SBA “seeks to broaden our reach and meet clients where they are. We form partnerships and relationships with private partners.” She also offered an important insight. “Venture is a piece . . . a very important piece,” she said, but added that it only accounts for about six percent of capital invested in small businesses. What is the source of the other 94 percent?

Markowitz also offered advice that is applicable to anyone seeking investment. “Show us your research,” she said. “Show us why we should believe your numbers,” adding that responding quickly and completely to any requests after a meeting with an investor is critically important.

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