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A jobless boom for female firms

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The problem: Most firms never create jobs for people other than the founder. Of some 27 million businesses in the US, only 6 million create extra jobs. Women own 29 percent of businesses, but employ only 6 percent of the workforce and contribute less than 4 percent of total revenues.

Business "was such a male-dominated area for so long that there is some validity to women not having the same networks as men," says Alicia Robb, a senior research fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. She points to three areas where women entrepreneurs need to progress: networking, financing, and managing the work-family balance.

Business networks can help entrepreneurs with promotion, marketing, and access to the key for any start-up: money. But women historically have had difficulties accessing growth capital. Part of that challenge may be the lack of women venture capitalists and angel investors, who play key roles in helping fund burgeoning businesses.

"It's a problem," says Ms. Thiers, who took Sittercity through two rounds of venture funding but encountered virtually no women in the process.

In the four years since starting Caskata, a high-end paper and tableware business, Shawn Laughlin has grown sales more than 10-fold, gotten her products featured in leading home magazines, and hired three employees. But access to capital has been "by far the most difficult challenge," she says.

Several groups are trying to help women overcome networking and funding challenges. The Kauffman Foundation expanded its FastTrac program, which offers hands-on training to entrepreneurs, to offer courses for women. Ernst & Young debuted Winning Women in 2008, a national competition that offers support to female businesses with high growth potential. Other support groups include Make Mine a Million $ Business, Women 2.0, and Astia, a nonprofit based in Silicon Valley that focuses on helping women-led companies gain access to growth capital.

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