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Women Entrepreneurs Put the Government in the Hot Seat Being a woman and an entrepreneur has its benefits, but there are also a number of challenges. Here, the SBA answers your burning questions about how to best overcome them.

By Diana Ransom

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Women Entrepreneurs Put the Government in the Hot SeatThere's no doubt that women entrepreneurs have come a long way. And while many have found success in business, some suggest that men have an upper hand with everything from accessing capital to finding business opportunities.

For insight into how women-business owners can both improve their company's growth trajectory and take advantage of federal programs aimed at them, we asked the U.S. Small Business Administration's Associate Administrator for Women's Business Ownership, Ana Harvey, to field some of our questions. Here are her edited responses:

  1. During the latest economic downturn, has it been tougher for women to access credit than men? If yes, why? And what if any steps is the government taking to improve women's access to capital?

    It's a fact that women are more likely than men to be turned down for credit. However, small businesses owned by women are three to five times more likely to get a loan that's been guaranteed by the SBA. That's also true for minority small business owners. And this year was a record for us. We put $30 billion into the hands of small business owners -- a lot of whom were women.

    In 2012, we're going to expand our microloan program and that's especially important for female entrepreneurs. A woman who is starting her business really doesn't need a $1 million loan. She needs $50,000 to buy new equipment or $100,000 to renovate her building.
  2. The federal program that grants public agencies the authority to set aside 5 percent of contracts to women-owned businesses annually has received criticism for not meeting its goal. How is the government intending to make sure it meets this goal in the future?

    In the 2010 fiscal year, we made a big improvement. Four percent of government contracts worth more than $17 billion went to women-owned businesses. But we won't be satisfied until the government hits its goal of five percent. That's why we've implemented the Women's Contracting Rule at SBA. Now for the first time, federal agencies can set aside contracting opportunities for small businesses owned by women in more than 300 industries where women are under-represented.

    So far, we have nearly 8,000 firms registered with the Women-Owned Small Business Program Repository and there's more than $14 million in contract awards through the set aside program.
  3. The SBA is currently helping prop up high-growth firms through a number of programs. But traditionally women haven't led high-growth firms. How, if at all, is the government attempting to counter this imbalance?

    Women are largely correcting this imbalance on their own. A lot of high-growth firms are now owned by women. Look at Flickr, Gilt Groupe, Bluemercury or Geomagic, just to name a few.

    To improve things further, SBA has launched a billion dollar Impact Investment Fund to put more equity in the hands of small businesses in underserved communities. Within the Small Business Investment Company program -- which funds high-growth businesses that are in scaling mode -- 34 percent of the small businesses that were financed last year were in low to moderate income areas or in minority or women-owned businesses.

Have your own questions? At 3pm EST today, you too will get an opportunity to get some answers from Harvey and Christine Koronides of the White House National Economic Council. The White House and the SBA is hosting a joint question and answer session, which you can view at WhiteHouse.gov/live. To submit questions, head to Facebook, use the hashtag #WHChat at Twitter or try this webform. You can also submit your questions below in Entrepreneur.com's comments section.

Readers, tell us: What's your top question about women's entrepreneurship?

Diana Ransom is the former deputy editor of Entrepreneur.com.

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