Expanding your business is always tough, and never more so than in the midst of a long-running economic slump. But women and minority entrepreneurs, who together own more than 10 million U.S. businesses, have access to more resources than they might realize. These range from business planning advice to certifications aimed at helping entrepreneurs win government and big-company contracts. Help is offered by myriad groups, from professional associations to local municipalities.
A variety of small business owners told SmallBiz that they were initially wary of describing themselves as minority business owners, preferring to let their capabilities speak for themselves. But others have found that there is no time like the bruising present to begin pursuing all avenues to success.
The services and organizations that follow aren't necessarily new, but they're among the most effective in helping minority and women entrepreneurs boost their businesses. Here is our guide, plus links to organizations that can help.
Commercial banks with active small business portfolios or Small Business Administration lending programs also often have programs for minorities and women. Wells Fargo, which last year ranked as the largest national bank lender in the SBA's flagship 7(a) loan program, has set a goal of lending $5 billion to Asian American business owners by the end of 2013 as part of its Asian Business Services Div. KeyBank also runs a minority and women's business enterprise program to help boost those outfits. Members of the Global Banking Alliance for Women, such as Bank of America and UPS Capital, have committed to building their lending programs for women entrepreneurs. wellsfargo.com; key.com; GBAforwomen.org; bankofamerica.com; capital.ups.com
Specialized angel funds such as Golden Seeds, for women, as well as local angel groups, such as the Minority Angel Investor Network in Philadelphia, may also be resources. Even if a fund isn't targeted specifically toward minorities or women, a little research into a fund's portfolio companies and the principals' interests can give you an idea of how receptive they might be. goldenseeds.com; minorityangelinvestornetwork.com
Springboard Enterprises also helps connect women business owners with investors, offering training and assistance in developing pitches and business plans. springboardenterprises.org
The SBA's Women's Business Centers can help you find local lenders who run programs for women business owners. SBA.gov/aboutsba/sbaprograms/online-wbc/index.html
Your city or state economic development agency may offer grants or loans to women- and minority-owned businesses. Although such grants may be geared toward low-income entrepreneurs, they're worth an inquiry. Many also offer grant programs or seed funding for minority- and women-owned businesses generally.
Certified minority business owners can apply for financing through the National Minority Supplier Development Council's Business Consortium Fund. This fund provides money to companies that are doing business with other members of the NMSDC. nmsdc.org
The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce offer peer counseling. Connecting with fellow members at the local level can help you navigate particular issues.
The Women Presidents' Organization offers peer counseling for entrepreneurs who, on average, have revenues of about $1 million a year. Local chapter members often advise one another informally. In addition to monthly meetings hosted by professional facilitators, the organization, which has more than 80 chapters, offers Webinars, regional seminars, and an annual conference. womenpresidents.org
The nonprofit Count Me In offers peer mentoring and professional coaching to women business owners. Its marquee event, Make Mine a Million, is a yearlong online competition to build a business to $1 million in revenues. makemineamillion.org
The many chambers also offer opportunities for education and networking. "The chambers are great contacts to have at the city level to know where business is going," says Ana Harvey, assistant administrator of the SBA and former president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Professional organizations such as the National Association of Women Business Owners, the WPO, the NMSDC, and the Women's Business Enterprise National Council also offer networking and educational resources. Locally or regionally, you may also encounter dozens of organizations for your ethnic or racial group. The Alliance of Business Leaders & Entrepreneurs in Chicago, for example, connects established black entrepreneurs with decision makers at large corporations. nawbo.org; WBENC.org; ablechicago.com
Industry or professional groups you belong to, whether a real estate organization or retail industry group, may also provide networking opportunities for women and specific minorities.
mentoring & business Planning
The SBA offers a broad spectrum of assistance. Its Office of Women's Business Ownership oversees more than 100 Women's Business Centers, which offer advisory services including business planning, loan applications, and certification help. They are primarily for businesses with less than $200,000 in sales. The Minority Business Development Agency, through the Commerce Dept., operates five regional business development centers that help minority entrepreneurs launch and boost their companies. In addition to tools and guidance, the centers help minority-owned businesses find financing. mdba.gov
A number of corporations also offer business planning and general advisory programs. IBM's Small & Medium Enterprise Toolkit offers online advice, mentoring, and tools for women and minority business owners. More specialized help is often available from services companies, too. Accounting firm Citrin Cooperman and financial-products company Principal Financial Group, for example, host meetings and Webinars for women business leaders. us.smetoolkit.org; citrincooperman.com; principal.com.
There are three main certifying agencies for minority and women business owners: the NMSDC, WBENC, and the SBA's 8(a) program. The first two are primarily for corporate contracts, but they can also help you network with other women or minority business owners who have their own contracts to fill. Some minority business owners can be certified through chambers such as USPAAC, which offers certification for both U.S-born and naturalized citizens as well as those holding green cards.
These can help entrepreneurs gain access to corporate procurement programs, although many government programs buy only from citizen-owned businesses.
Many small business owners find that their fellow certified vendors become their clients. Within the WBENC list, for example, up to 50% of certified business owners sign procurement contracts with other small women-owned businesses.
The SBA's 8(a) federal certification program promotes access for socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs— those who face bias because of their identity and therefore have limited access to the free enterprise system—to federal contracts. It also serves as a directory of qualified small businesses for prime contractors. State and local governments may also offer their own certification programs. Generally, certification as a minority or woman-owned business also allows entrepreneurs to attend pre-bid conferences on state and federal contracts. SBA.gov/about-SBA/sbaprograms/8abd
Several organizations work with entrepreneurs to demystify the government contracting process. "It's really not that complicated or difficult, you just need to know what it entails," says Barbara Kasoff, president of advocacy organization Women Impacting Public Policy. wipp.org
Kasoff notes that the SBA is an excellent place to start. But her organization has also joined with American Express Open to launch the Give Me 5 program, named after the 5% of all federal contracts that are supposed to go to women business owners. It offers monthly Webinars and other tools for those who want to sell to the federal government. In November, Amex launched Open for Government Contracts, an online tool that walks one through the process of applying for a government contract. openforum.com
Minority groups may also offer assistance with federal contracting. The USPAAC and the Hispanic Chamber offer extensive online resources to help navigate the government procurement process and offer training on how to make bids. "The opportunities are there," says Javier Palomarez, president of the Hispanic Chamber. "We want to make sure that our members are prepared and ready to take them."
Many colleges and universities offer significant resources for entrepreneurs, and plenty are open to the community. For established businesses, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth offers one-week courses such as Building the High-Performing Minority Business and Growing the Minority Business to Scale. Other schools have programs for launching or growing a business. Among Babson College's offerings is Moving from Managing to Leading, an executive course for women leaders. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University also offers an executive program in partnership with the NMSDC. tuck.dartmouth.edu; babson.edu; kellogg.northwestern.edu
Rather than offering services to members, the National Women's Business Council, a policy advisory council to the President and Congress, serves as an information clearinghouse. Resources include research on entrepreneurship and papers on current issues that affect entrepreneurs, as well as lists of other organizations that may provide aid. nwbc.gov