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Opportunity Knocks Women's access to capital widens with the help of a new SBA program.

By Janean Chun

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Not very long ago, the only thing that seemed to exceed womenentrepreneurs' need for financing was the disdain with whichmany bankers treated them. As a result, many women were forced tofinance their businesses using alternative (some might saydesperate) means such as credit cards or loans from friends orfamily members; others simply lost hope of ever starting orexpanding their businesses. It seemed we'd never see the daywhen bankers would accept a woman's business loan applicationwith a straight face.

Yet in a relatively short period of time, that scenario haschanged dramatically. Perhaps one of the greatest recent successesof the Small Business Administration (SBA) has been its Women'sPrequalification Pilot Loan Program, which helps women seekingloans of less than $250,000 complete their loan applications andpresents their bankers with an SBA guarantee of the loan. Since itsintroduction in June 1994 from 16 pilot sites, the PrequalificationProgram has helped 574 women receive federally guaranteed loanstotaling almost $59 million. President Clinton expanded the pilotprogram to a nationwide basis in October, explaining, "I wantto build on a program that is plainly working."

"Two years ago, many bankers would tell women, `Don'teven bother to get your loan application package together--it'snot worth your time,' " says Sherrye Henry, director ofthe SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership. "Theystill hadn't gotten the message that women business owners wereemerging as an extraordinarily strong market, and they weren'tputting any time and effort into [lending to women]."

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