Lets Talk About Growth Capital

In our first-of-its-kind survey of women owned businesses, we unearthed what it is that women business owners need to grow their business, and the challenges that they face. We interviewed a few of the women who participated in our survey. Here is what they have to say about the challenges that women face in getting the capital they need.

LISA CHRETIEN, President of EventMover

Lisa Chretien, Founder and President of EventMover, an event transportation service, describes her entrepreneurial spirit as “jump off the cliff and then check to see if the parachute opens.” She is full of life and drive, and when she sees an opportunity she isn’t one to pass it up. In 2001 as she saw the company she worked for diluting its business as they grew, she decided that she could do a better job, and without even knowing what Quickbooks was, decided to branch off and start her own business. 

In the first year she made about $275k, enough to have her husband quit his job and join her in the venture, and by 2010 had been able to grow her business to nearly $2 million. At this point, she knew that she needed to do something if she was going to maintain and grow what she had built. 

She joined WBEC-West for their certification at the prompting of a client who wanted to add her to their diversity profile. She learned that if she was going to have an opportunity at the growth capital she needed in this post-financial crisis world, she was going to need a CPA that fought like a lawyer, as well as the assets to back her up.

Lisa faces the challenge of being in a service rather than an asset-based company. She is an organizer and mover of intricate puzzle-pieces, with venders, contractors, and employees all working in concert to get things done. A line of credit is vital to keeping the business healthy, strong, and in motion, because clients don’t always have terms of 30 days like her vendors do. So, even with millions in the pipeline, banks aren’t the most friendly to service-based companies because they don’t have assets to use as collateral, and as Lisa says, “[the banks] don’t want to be in the business of owning personal assets.” 

Lisa went to 25 different banks with open books, her CPA, and personal assets at the ready before finally finding one that would give her a line of credit. Like many women in similar industries, she has to use her own home equity to back her line of credit, something that she recognizes as an advantage over women business owners that don’t have such resources available. 

This is a big point of frustration for Lisa. “You could be in a room of 300 women [at a networking event], and I would like you to find me three women that are doing over a million dollars because you will not find them in the room… they can’t grow their business because they can’t get funding… what could they do if they had the ability and the cash flow to grow their company?” She has seen first hand the lack of options available to women in the missing middle (businesses with $250k-$1milion) and sees the huge potential that gets wasted because of it. 

Even with well-known national companies attracted to her WBEC certification, keeping that business would be impossible without her line of credit (LOC). Larger companies tend to set their own payment terms, sometimes as far out as 75 days, and the most she can extend terms for her suppliers is 45 days. Lisa said that it’s difficult as a small business to “play bank” for large companies. And what does the actual bank have to say? “The bank tells you that’s bad business,” said Lisa, followed by a pause and a laugh. 

While Lisa got her LOC, she still faces the challenge of keeping the amount available to her where she needs it, because the LOC is reviewed and renewed annually. With a seasonal business like hers (trade shows and conferences slow in the summer and holiday season), at one moment she might only have half her annual revenue secured, and the next, have all of what she anticipated and then some. In 2018 she was just under $4 million, and this year she is projected to make just over $4 million. She attributes a lot of her success both to the mentorships that she’s had and the LOC that she’s been able to maintain through the years.

 

PAM ISOM, CEO of ICE Safety Solutions

Pam Isom started ICE Safety Solutions twenty years ago, providing safety and CPR training, equipment and medical supplies to corporate clients. Now she employs 12 full-time employees and 20 contractors with revenues in excess of $3 million annually.

Two years ago, Pam realized that “what got us here, will not get us there.'' She innovated technology into the safety training division by using virtual reality technology and the Oculus Go VR headsets.  She is now able to deliver safety training using VR headsets, helping clients reduce the cost of training while ICE’s employees are deployed in other revenue generating projects.

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Her growth has been slow and organic. While she has received lines of credit (LOC) in the amount of $25-$50K, they only support three operation areas: payroll, credit cards, and payment to vendors within 30 days. “This lack of capital makes it impossible to grow, let alone invest in technology, says Pam. Additionally, she said

The #1 reason why my current Line of Credit cannot support growth is the following: Corporations demand the lowest price and extend payment by 60-90-120 days which forces a business to utilize the Line of Credit for operational purposes and forces us to pay interest on the line, which negatively impacts profitability!  The interest charges affect profitability which, in turn, affects our saving money for a ‘rainy day’, then affects our ability to utilize savings to make the investment in technology growth. This is an everyday reality. 

It has been a constant challenge to get the financing she needs.  She spent five months in meetings with a major financial institution for growth capital to fund the virtual reality division of the company.  “Meeting after meeting was focused on us purchasing the bank’s tools - payroll, saving etc. etc. The focus was more on my business buying services from them, rather than on my needs to secure capital to grow,” said Pam.  

Looking back, Pam explained that a line of credit for $100K would have enabled her to fund and build the VR technology. “If the lender could have evaluated our 20 years in business, customer list, our traction, success, and scale in the US and how our technology is poised to change how corporations avoid fines and penalties from insufficient safety training from OSHA, if this could have been an option for us, I am confident our VR Safety division would now be growing by leaps and bounds.”

ANNUAL REPORT

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I-WE ANNUAL REPORT

After conferring with a range of women business leaders, including a number who are active in Republican politics, Claudia Viek launched the  I-WE Initiative formally in November 2017.  She created the Steering Committee who  enthusiastically supported the purpose of changing the status quo of chronic under-funding for women entrepreneurs.

 In February 2018, Rebecca Kee was hired to serve as Communications Director, and she promptly created our website, logo and NewsFlash monthly letter. We love that mauve and yellow logo and many have complimented our look and website design.  In June we hired a summer intern, Tidani Berhe, to help us gather gender and race data from federal agencies supporting women entrepreneurs. In August we contracted with Erin Musgrave of EMC Strategies to provide PR consultation in crafting and disseminating our messages effectively.  We have built out our bi-partisan Sphere of Influencers (SOI) network and mailing list.  We published one Op-Ed in the American Banker, several blogs and entrepreneur profiles.  We convened our network members in Washington DC and in San Francisco to further define our strategies vis a vis our aspirational goal-- generating $50 million in more funding for women’s business assistance and $50 million in new capital to fund the start- up and expansion of women-owned businesses. 

In the past year, many directions opened up where I-WE could provide expertise, serve as advocate or as a catalyst and connector to advance our goals.  Our immediate objective is not to significantly grow the organization, but to stay small and focused on actions in partnership with our network members.  In 2019 we will need to discern the best opportunities to stay focused and effective. 

Following is a progress report on the three strategy areas currently governing our activities:

1.     Increasing Capital Access

·       What do Women Want for Financing Growth:  Completed sample survey of 405 Women Business Enterprises certified through WBEC-Pacific, the West Coast affiliate of WBENC. 134 (33%) responded and 45% of these respondents reported need for growth capital with majority indicating need for lines of credit $250-$500K.(survey)   We were invited by WIPP to include our survey questions in their upcoming national annual survey of thousands of WBEs.  This information will be used to develop a profile of WBE borrowers that we will take to lenders to advocate for the types of products indicated and to set up a channel for WBEs to access capital from lenders that participate. We will approach several lenders in CA with the sample survey outcomes to assess interest.

·       Home Equity Financing for Business Needs:  The NY Federal Reserve included our question of whether home equity was used to finance business needs in their 2018 Annual Survey of Small Business Credit.  This will be the first time that this key national study will have such data on all businesses, broken out in segments on women and race.  This information will create better understanding of how personal assets are used for business financing and will indicate possible policy directions, e.g. support for homeownership for LMI women.

·       Connecting Private Wealth Managers with Impact Investing in Women Entrepreneurs:  currently testing approach to reaching private wealth clients of banks, offering the opportunity to donate to the RSF Social Finance Women’s Capital Collaborative (WCC).  The bank would offer this tax exempt contribution to their clients to illustrate the bank’s CSR commitment.  We developed this offer as a result of trending research that shows that investors, and especially women, are interested in socially responsible options.  The WCC staff are following up with interest expressed by First Republic Bank.   WCC’s overall goal is to raise $10million in capital to loan to women entrepreneurs whose businesses include social impact goals.  (rsfsocialfinance.org/give/give-to-rsf-projects/capital-collaborative/ ).

Challenges

·        Convincing lenders to create relevant financing products for growth- oriented women owned businesses

·       Creating referral channels between WBENC/WIPP WBEs and interested lenders.

·       Identifying and attracting wealth managers to support the RSF Women’s Capital Collaborative.

2.      Increasing Funding Resources for  Business Assistance Programs and Women’s Business Centers

·        Supported California legislation that provided matching funds and expansion funding for 14 SBA WBCs.  I-WE Steering Committee members, Carolina Martinez of CAMEO, and Marsha Bailey of WEV, did the heavy lifting as did a number of our SOIs, notably Nancy Swift of JEDI and Bianca Blomquist from Small Business Majority.  The total amount accessed was around $2.5 million. This legislation could serve as a model for other states considering support for their WBCs which are chronically under-resourced.  

·       Approached Union Bank to create a special TA program for women entrepreneurs in CA. (Pending)

·       Advising Bank of the West on development of their new Women’s Entrepreneur Platform and array of resources for women-owned businesses.  This is the first financial institution in CA to create a women-focused program.

·       Crowdfunding for Women:  Sponsored and participated in I-WE Steering Committee member Jenny Kassan’s Fund and Fuel Your Dreams Conference in Baltimore. Jenny created the platform, Crowd Fund Main Street, to direct investors to her women entrepreneur clients.  We are discussing further opportunities for collaboration.

·       Advocated to Increase federal funding for SBA’s Women’s Business Centers and the Assoc. of WBCs.  No progress was made in this area due primarily to lack of agreement on a coordinated strategy.  A better approach, according to WBC leadership feedback, would be to direct funding support to the AWBC to work with their members to build capacity for growth.  

Challenges

·       Achieving consensus on a coordinated strategy for increased funding for WBCs

·       Identifying and developing supporters and champions that will advocate to increase budgets in federal agencies serving women entrepreneurs.

3.       Aggregating Data on Women-Owned Businesses

·       Various I-WE members have asserted that “we need new metrics for women-owned businesses.  What doesn’t get counted, doesn’t exist”.  Shining a light on the landscape of women entrepreneurs has been the most frequently requested and responded-to area of our work.  There is the general perception among policy makers that women owned businesses are too marginal to make a difference in the economy.  Too often we hear the word “hobby” applied to businesses that are bringing in household income that is significant i.e. enabling home purchase, college education, etc. 

·       We are seeking data on gender and race from the following agencies that provide entrepreneur support and loans to women: SBA, HUD/CDBG, USDA Rural Development, EDA’s Minority Business Development Agency. The objective is to show the current federal commitment and estimating the economic impact. 

·       We publish Op-Eds, Letters to Editors, and blogs, aggregating information from various studies on women-owned businesses:  American Express, Bank of America, Nation Business Women’s Council, Federal Reserve, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Emergent Research’s State of Independence Report, etc.  We respond to opportunities to frame our case in major media.

Challenges

·        Except from the SBA, we have been frustrated in our ability to get numbers on women and minorities from government agencies funding small business support and lending programs.  Therefore, we secured the assistance of Kamala Harris’ office in getting this information.  We will use this data to estimate the overall economic value obtained and frame a case for increasing investment in women. 

·       I-WE needs to develop specific strategies to address the lack of relevant metrics for women-owned businesses.  We see this as an opportunity to re-frame how women businesses are valued.  For example, we could host a webinar with several presenters that offer alternatives for measuring impact of women businesses; we could develop white papers on more appropriate metrics; we could collaborate with NWBC and the Federal Reserve to encourage more research and advocacy in measuring economic impacts.

Future Planning

Guidance is needed in defining a focused work plan, based on the varied opportunities that have emerged in our first year and are briefly described above.  I-WE is a catalyst, using our network to identify opportunities for actions that will advance our mission.  Are there other areas we should be addressing?  Where can we be most effective? 

Some I-WE members encouraged the identification of champions in Congress that would put  women’s funding “on the table”.  There’s agreement that the new members of Congress, a large number of whom are women and/or were elected by women, would be good prospects to approach for support.  Who are the best partners for I-WE to collaborate with?  Should we soft-pedal the advocacy and focus on metrics and education of policy makers?   

Financial Summary (projected through December 31, 2018)

Revenues

Individual Gifts                     $27,000

Grants

   First Republic Bank          10,000

Total                                   $37,000

Expenses

Staffing

   Communications             6,362

   Intern                                     1,000

Consultant

  EMC Strategies                     1,000

Travel/Lodging                    2,322

Food                                           852

Supplies/Printing                     192

Web(hosting, subscript)         483

Conferences                             650

 

Total                                      12,861

Net                                       24,139

Entrepreneurial Risks Reap Rewards for Gig Economy Women

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When Reina Terry’s oldest daughter was preparing to leave for college, Reina felt compelled to give what she refers to as “the ole’ college speech,” urging her to follow her dreams. But Reina, who had worked as an office assistant for nearly two decades, realized that the person actually deserving of that lecture was herself.

Reina knew that she had great party-organizing skills but had never taken the leap to turn her hobby into a career. “A friend from the neighborhood where I grew up (in Bayview) told me about a Women's Entrepreneurship program starting up at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, and that with my talent it would be a great idea for me to come check it out,” Reina explains. She enrolled in the classes in hopes of making her dream a reality. Now, two years later, Reina is founder and CEO of PartyHapps.

Reina is one of many women who are self-employed and earn a living through the “gig economy” - combining entrepreneurial efforts and contract work to make a living. Growing numbers of women are seeking out gig work to increase their income, have a flexible schedule, and find satisfaction in their work. According to a recent survey of 1,000 women in the gig economy, 44% cited flexibility as the top reason for self-employment, a reason that Reina herself gives as the defining factor in allowing her to spend time with her children without compromising her employment.

Reina loves running her own business and schedule, explaining, “I totally appreciate the flexibility of being able to go see plays and sports games at my young daughter's school without having to worry whether or not I'd be jeopardizing my employment by taking off the time to support my family’s activities.” She’s particularly grateful that she found a supportive network of fellow entrepreneurs, touting one of her favorite sayings, “teamwork makes the dream work.”

Taking that leap of faith as an entrepreneur can be very challenging at times and sometimes we just need a little nudge or friendly reminder from someone whom we trust to bring us out of having those feelings of discouragement.”

Nationwide, businesses founded and run by women have increased by 58% since 2007, according to the 2018 American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. But Reina is part of a particularly successful subset, Latina women, who have seen their numbers grow by an impressive 172%. Unfortunately as minority women-owned businesses have grown in number, they have shrunk in revenue, from an average of $84,100 down to $66,400. PartyHapps has given Reina more financial stability: “I have quickly learned that entrepreneurship requires multiple streams of income and that I will be able to utilize my gifts through these different avenues as long as I plan well and execute accordingly.” Reina has supplemented her income from PartyHapps with rideshare driving to stay afloat in the expensive Bay Area.

Reina is now modeling the chase-your-dreams lifestyle that she wishes for her daughters, and she takes pride in her work. She hopes that more women will take the plunge and pursue their own entrepreneurial efforts, especially because supporting each other will lead to more success for all. She urges, “Surround yourself with like-minded people so that you can feed off of each others’ ambitious energies and perpetuate a challenge to become greater.” Maybe Reina has a personal stake in their success too - all of those successful women entrepreneurs will be needing help coordinating their office parties and anniversary celebrations in the future.

YABETTE BRINGS THE SWANK

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San Francisco is known for its wide-ranging assortment of creative start-ups, from funky retail shops to online purveyors, upcycled reused material creations to brand new products, solo ventures to collaborative team efforts. But rarely does a single entrepreneur manage to do it all. For Yabette Swank of SwanketySwank, she’s managed to explore every avenue of business ownership, with her latest venture building on her many years of experience. 

When Yabette first came to San Francisco she was an audio engineer, but the unrelenting pace of studio work led her to her first entrepreneurial effort: sewing bags that became popular enough for her to justify quitting her day job and opening a retail shop. “I started making bags that were interesting and unique but also fully functional for mamas in the city like me,” Yabette explained. She provided space for other creative types to sell their wares, building up a local artist community that supported one another’s work. After taking a class in business planning at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Francisco, Yabette reevaluated her plan and has now launched an online shop where she sells her latest creations: sustainable clothing for men and women.

Yabette has a close network of friends who have helped her launch new ventures, but wishes that support and loans were more readily available to budding women entrepreneurs. “I would love access to getting funding and upscaling in an easier way,” Yabette shared, “as an artist I don’t always meet a bank’s criteria,” a problem she believes that many women, particularly creative-types, face on the financial front. Yabette laments this obstacle because it holds women back from sustaining their local economies. “When I get funding I’m putting that money into local seamstresses - I’m very much about fueling my local community.”

Yabette counts herself fortunate to have supported herself in San Francisco’s competitive economy all while switching things up and pursuing her passions. “Following my heart isn’t always the best business model," she confesses, "but I wouldn’t have it any other way! Check out Yabette’s latest designs, for women and men of all body types in styles ranging from casual to luxurious, at www.swanketyswank.com, where you can also click through to her kickstarter link to get in on the action!

Wild Curls Inspire Wild Success for Jess McGuinty

Jess McGuinty, founder of Jessicurl

Jess McGuinty, founder of Jessicurl

Jess McGuinty didn’t dream of becoming an entrepreneur, her unmanageable hair pushed her into it. Fighting her way through wild curls, Jess found an online community of similarly tangled folks who all shared the challenge of finding products to tame their locks. Strangers quickly flocked to her when, after much trial and error, she concocted a formula for the perfect homemade hair gel.

When Jess tried to share the recipe she was surprised by the responses of her online friends: no one wanted her free instructions, everyone just wanted Jess to make it for them. Looking back she laughs, “my customers forced me into business!”

Jess knew that she could make a great product, but had no idea where to begin as a business owner. Living in Berkeley at the time, she happened upon an organization called SCORE that connected her with retired business professionals who could share their expertise. A friend offered her use of his chemistry lab to perfect the preservation of her products, and her father gave her business tips that she wasn’t too stubborn to take.

Jess advises up-and-coming entrepreneurs to not let their egos get in their own way: “You haven’t done this before, so how can you be expected to know how to do it?” The resources and friends that supported her were essential to her success, and Jess points out that most communities have a Small Business Development Center where free advice and services can go a long way in setting a new business owner on the path to profit.

What started in Jess’s kitchen has grown into Jessicurl, a strong business that operates out of a factory in Arcata, California. Jess takes pride in her successes (including an appearance on the Rachael Ray Show) and the excellent staff she employs, but it always comes back to her commitment to her customers. Helping them to find the products and community that enable them to love their hair and themselves is what inspires her.

Jess knows that a simple idea can lead to big achievements, so she recommends that other budding entrepreneurs take advantage of community resources and lean on others for help. “Just ask questions and keep learning,” she encourages, “that’s literally how everyone else before you has done it!”

The Madness of Judi Henderson

Judi Henderson, founder of Mannequin Madness

Judi Henderson, founder of Mannequin Madness

Judi Henderson, founder of Mannequin Madness, calls herself the "accidental entrepreneur." Successfully working as an employee of large corporations, she had no intention of founding and running her own business. But after a chance encounter with a retiring business owner who specialized in mannequin sales, Judi decided to buy his whole inventory and open up a shop of her own.

Like many budding women entrepreneurs, Judi faced two challenges: seeing herself as an entrepreneur and having the business skills to succeed. "I think sometimes women are loath to see themselves as entrepreneurs because there aren’t images that look like us. I never saw someone on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine that looked like me. Women entrepreneurs were mostly involved in fashion or food. There was a lack of role models for thinking beyond those spaces."

Judi had the drive and the idea, but needed the business skills to get her company off the ground. She took a class at the Renaissance Center, a resource center for entrepreneurs, which helped her design a plan. "What I originally had in mind wasn’t going to be successful, which Renaissance helped me realize. They saved me from making a costly mistake."

Judi recommends to other budding entrepreneurs that they seek out similar resources to start off on the right foot. Moreover, she thinks that more women need to see themselves as business owners and more banks need to fund them. "You look at loans to women - the success rate is unbelievable. Often higher than among the men. Women are very resourceful, and they are often working on businesses that benefit the community locally and at large." She insists that banks and the government need to see that women might do business differently, but that doesn't make them a risky investment: they're highly motivated and invested in their families. While investors may be dazzled by big tech start-ups, Judi makes the point that smaller businesses are more likely to hire locally, and that even tech firms need the support of community businesses to provide services and support. 

For a long time Judi saw herself as a hobbyist, until her business began to take off and she realized that she had become a role model to others. "I was featured on CNN and a woman in London liked my idea. We started communicating online, and ultimately I met with her in person there, and next thing you know she was having her own entrepreneurial success."

Judi now runs Mannequin Madness in a 3200 square foot warehouse with a diverse group of employees. Her two biggest pieces of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs are:

#1: Educate yourself by taking workshops, classes, and surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs. Find support. Don’t try to do it alone. 

#2: Become digitally savvy. Even a low-tech business needs to use tech skills to grow, whether its having an e-commerce website or tools for running the business.