Championing Women-Owned Businesses. A Look at the DC Women’s Business Center

More than 11.6 million firms are owned by women in the U.S. These firms employ nearly nine million people, and generate $1.7 trillion in sales, according to 2017 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

They also account for almost 40 per cent of all privately held firms and contribute 8% of employment and 4.2% of revenues. More so, data shows that one in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more is woman-owned.

This significant growth in businesses-owned by women is the result of deliberate actions taken by the U.S. government targeted at creating resources and networks for women entrepreneurs.

One of such actions was the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act (H.R. 5050), some 30 years ago. The Act was created to address the needs of women entrepreneurs by recognizing the significant role they play in the U.S. economy and provide them with additional resources to become stronger business owners.

This became one of the first things that empowered women to be entrepreneurs on their own terms. It also established the Small Business Administration (SBA’s) Women’s Business Center (WBC) program.

The WBC program was the first SBA initiative to focus solely on women, with a mission to act as the catalyst for providing in-depth, substantive, outcome-oriented business services to women entrepreneurs.

These include both budding and established businesses, many of which are socially and economically disadvantaged.

Today, there are more than 100 WBCs all over U.S providing an incredible service for women entrepreneurs that help them to launch and grow businesses and create jobs.

In 2017 alone, the WBCs supported more than 150, 000 women, resulting in tremendous revenue and job growth for the businesses they served? $1.7 billion in revenue and 17, 000 new job creations.

DAILY GUIDE’s Jamila Akweley Okertchiri spoke with the Director of the Washington, DC Women’s Business Center, Dee Claxton, during the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) Reporting Tour organised by the Foreign Press Center of the U.S. Department of State. 

Dee shared insights on the centers operations, highlighting a few lessons developing countries can learn from empowering women entrepreneurs.

Jamila: What is your mode of operation?

Dee: We have various workshop programs for the women consisting of general business development.

So, we are designing our own business plan template document that actually teaches female entrepreneurs how to write a business plan, if ambitious, within two weeks.

We teach business plan development from the perspective that you do not need to read a book or a statement to actually crack a solid business plan.

Also, we have an advanced financial literacy series workshop programme in place that teaches about profit and loss statements, balance sheets and understanding financing. It is also super critical because again an entrepreneur is not good at everything, right.

Most entrepreneurs know their craft, they know their skills but not particularly finances, for example. That is one of the areas we often see entrepreneurs get tricked up like not knowing how to manage finances. So, those are some of the workshops that we offer to women entrepreneurs out of the District of Columbia.

Jamila: Do you run workshops for existing businesses at want to scale-up?

Dee: That’s a good question, in addition to the business plan workshop for entrepreneurs, we also teach a workshop called ‘Let’s scale’. ‘Let’s scale’ is primarily focused on those businesses that have been around for two or more years.

We give them guidance on how to grow their businesses. Again, that’s not a common area of focus for small businesses. In that workshop we discuss risk, we discuss insurance issues or insurance practices, basically best practices across the board, you know, how to put together manuals to operate efficiently and effectively.

Jamila: What other areas do you focus on in your workshops?

Dee: Again, emergency preparedness, strategic planning are some of the areas of focus in our workshop.

In addition to that, we offer government contracting workshops, so we teach government contracting – local government contracting or federal government contracting – we have workshops for both. Both workshops are very intense but they provide comprehensive guidance on how to, what it looks like, who to reach out to for those who are interested in government contracting.

Jamila: How do you attract women entrepreneurs?

Dee: We are funded in part by the SBA, which is a federal agency governing small businesses here in the US. They advertise us. So, we get clients who reach out to us because they have been in touch with the SBA and we also partner with communities and organizations to exhibit at events.

We are also in the community quite a lot conducting outreach efforts to let folks know that we exist. And again, after a while and over time it spreads through word of mouth. So, it’s the combination of both.

Jamila: Are there any requirement for women who want to enrol at the center?  

Dee: It can be any woman owning a business. Except – we do have one exception. Unfortunately, we do not provide or we are prohibited from providing services to non-profits unless the non-profit is in the space of a small business or entrepreneurship in some capacity. Other than that, there are no restrictions on what women entrepreneurs do.

Jamila: One of the challenges for women entrepreneurs is combining work and family. What role is the DCWBC playing to ensure they have a balance?

Dee: Sure, so our program is particularly designed particularly for women. Some of the programming that we put in place is to accommodate the family life and the lack of economic resources, so we focus on offering workshops after work hours.

So, these workshops normally start at 6:30 pm through 9:00 pm because some of our clients are still full-time employed while they are looking to embark upon the entrepreneurship journey.

Other resource that we put in place as we advertise is that we are kid-friendly. So, we allow children to attend workshops and counseling with their parent if necessary. We embrace that and we don’t shun children participating in our events.

Jamila: What are the common obstacles you encounter as you work with women entrepreneurs?

Dee: One of the most common obstacles I hear from my clients is accessing capital. That is a common issue across many clients because without funding, then it is hard to sustain a business. That’s one of the big deals.

And in addition to that, we hear marketing and exposure. You own a business, you provide a great service, but no one knows that you exist. You get one client, that’s great but it’s not sustainable.

So, those are some of the common issues that we hear most regularly and to address those issues we put programming in place such as focusing our clients on helping them with branding and exposure.

Jamila: How is the center helping women overcome these obstacles?

Dee: So, we’ve started a success story series. We have started interviewing some of our clients who have made great business milestone in their business venture with the intent to send it to the media and SBA for national exposure.

So, overall kind of helping our clients with gaining that exposure in addition to partnering with banking institutions and financial institutions to help them access capital.

Another measure is our partnership with the Department Consumer Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) because you know we have a client who is looking to register their business.

You know as a government agency to officially begin a business and having a contact at DCRA is priceless. I don’t know if your government agencies back home have layers of layers of bureaucracy. Here in the US, there can be layers of layers of bureaucracy with getting things done and push through government agency.

It can be a process, it can be tons of documents on paperwork to complete or the timeline is just way too long. So, having a direct contact on those agencies like DCRA is so super helpful to help our clients navigate that process.

Jamila: Is there a way you measure the impact you have had on your clients?

Dee: We measure our clients based on particularly milestones and some of the milestones we measure our clients successes on are how many jobs they created, how much revenue they have earned for the year or if they received any government contract or were able to access capital.

So, those are some of the milestones that we use to measure the successes for our clients. Generally measuring success for entrepreneurship is a long-term project because you see overnight sensations and those are your Zuckerbergs, but that’s not the norm.