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Brave New World

Why now's a perfect time for women to take their businesses global.

Eons ago, some have speculated, the continents existed as one giant land mass. While this is physically no longer true, in a sense, international trade has brought the world together again. But unfortunately, few women entrepreneurs are using global trade to get acquainted with their neighbors.

"Only 13 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs are exporters," says Sherrye Henry of the SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership. "And women own about 40 percent of all businesses in America." Statistics indicate only 1.1 percent of women-owned firms do any exporting.

One reason women aren't better represented globally is due to the nature of the businesses they tend to start, says Marjory Searing of the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration (ITA). "I think that because they start businesses based on local market interests and demands, women have less understanding of the potential there is outside the United States," she says.

And still other factors impede women's involvement in trade. Their businesses are relatively newer and smaller compared to those of their male counterparts; the cost of exporting is high; and banks are less inclined to fund risky international endeavors. The outlook is improving, however, thanks to a number of special initiatives and organizations:

  • Canada/U.S.A. Businesswomen's Trade Summit '99, to be held next month, involves Aida Alvarez, SBA administrator; William Daley, Commerce secretary; and Sergio Marchi, Canadian minister of international trade. Summit organizers created a Web site where women interested in trade can interact. Although the summit application deadline has already passed, you can get information by visiting http://www.businesswomensummit.com
  • The ITA leads several women-only trade missions annually and helps women become export-ready. It also conducts online trade missions to introduce U.S. women to businesspeople worldwide. Visit http://www.ita.doc.gov/tic for details.
  • Global Woman Forum, a private organization, helps women conduct international business by providing SBA resources and global connections. Call (202) 775-7234 for more information.
  • The Global Women's Trade Network (http://www.globalwomen.org)Web site includes not only a virtual trade mall where women entrepreneurs can display their products and services, but also numerous links to trade and women's organizations.
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This article was originally published in the April 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Brave New World.

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