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How We Can Unlock Success for Women-Owned Businesses These common traits of thriving states and cities can be valuable insights into strategies that can be adapted to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs.

By Kate Isler Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Recognizing and bolstering the accomplishments of women in business is paramount for state and local governments, as these achievements not only shape immediate communities but also establish a foundation for broader economic growth and stability.
  • Women-owned enterprises can be an economic win with state and local support.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, women-owned businesses are making strides and significant contributions to economic growth and diversity. A recent study by the Wells Fargo Foundation sheds light on the factors that create an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs to thrive. This report delves into the study's key findings, offering insights into what the most successful states and cities for women-owned businesses have in common.

The study comprehensively analyzes the top and bottom ten states and metropolitan areas (MSAs) for women-owned businesses. By scrutinizing these regions, researchers aimed to identify the underlying factors that fostered or hindered the growth of women-owned enterprises. While not surprising, the results provide valuable insights into strategies that can be adapted to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs.

Related: 5 Lessons Learned From a Female Entrepreneur

Access to funding

Unsurprisingly, one of the study's most significant findings was the correlation between funding access and women-owned businesses' success. States and MSAs actively facilitating access to capital, including loans, grants, and financial incentives, saw higher growth rates among women entrepreneurs. This access to funding provides a critical lifeline for businesses to start, expand, and sustain their operations and extend employment.

In contrast, regions with limited funding opportunities often lagged in developing women-owned enterprises and saw little contribution to their local economies from this critical segment of businesses. This is a clear missed opportunity to take advantage of a segment that is proven to have a positive economic impact when supported with targeted initiatives and technical assistance.

Related: These Are the Biggest Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face (and What to Do)

Support programs

Another key commonality among the most successful states and cities was the presence and effectiveness of support programs tailored to women-owned businesses. These programs encompass various initiatives, including government supplier diversity programs, training, counseling, technical assistance and networking opportunities. States and MSAs that actively promoted and improved such programs experienced a higher level of women-owned business activity, resulting in more local income and employment growth.

These programs provide essential skills and resources and serve as a crucial support network for women entrepreneurs, fostering a sense of community and collaboration. In contrast, regions that lacked such support systems faced a steeper uphill battle for women entrepreneurs. The most extreme cases saw a loss of women-owned businesses compared to the trend in the rest of the country.

Simplified business climate

The study highlighted the importance of creating a business-friendly environment for women-owned enterprises. States and cities that took steps to ease tax burdens and actively promote workforce diversity were more likely to attract and retain women entrepreneurs. A simplified business climate reduces the administrative hurdles and financial burdens that often impede the growth of startups, allowing women-owned businesses to thrive, again adding to the positive economic impact these businesses have on a community.

Public awareness campaigns

In addition to tangible support and resources, the study emphasized the role of public awareness campaigns in shaping perceptions and opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Stereotypes and biases can be significant barriers for women in business. However, regions that actively challenged these stereotypes through public campaigns saw greater success for women-owned businesses. These campaigns encouraged women to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors and changed societal attitudes, leading to a more inclusive business environment.

Related: How to Navigate Business Challenges — 5 Reflections as I Enter Year 4 of My Startup

Success stories

To provide a practical context for these findings, let's take a closer look at some of the top-ranking states and MSAs for women-owned businesses:

New York: As a global financial and cultural hub, New York City has become a hotspot for women-owned businesses. Access to venture capital and angel investors is abundant, while the city's diverse population creates opportunities for niche markets. The state offers technical assistance, training, networking opportunities, and access to capital. With an employment growth rate of 42.8%, the state's women-owned businesses workforce shows remarkable expansion. New York also ranked in the top five for having a high share of women-led firms and is in the top ten for employment and revenue, indicating their substantial influence on New York's economy.

Georgia: Georgia boasts that Women Business Enterprises (WBE) are the fastest growing segment in the State and rank fifth in the US for the most significant number of women-owned firms led by Metro Atlanta. GA ranks second in total number of women-owned firms and seventh in growth in economic clout of women-owned firms. To achieve these ratings, Georgia provides strong support for women entrepreneurs. These firms also show a remarkable growth rate of 18.3%. Georgia is also the seventh in highest revenue share, meaning women-owned businesses make a meaningful contribution to the state's economy.

Texas: The Lone Star State offers a business-friendly environment, with no personal income tax and a low cost of living. Texas actively encourages supplier diversity, making it easier for women-owned businesses to secure contracts with government agencies and corporations. Houston and Austin, in particular, stand out as thriving MSAs for women entrepreneurs. The growth rate for new firms stands at 3.1% and employment growth is at -1.9%, the state's women-owned businesses significantly influence the economy. Ranking third in share of number of women-owned firms, second in employment, and second in revenue share, the state highlights the vast presence and significant impact of women-owned businesses.

Related: Startups Are the Best Place for Women in Business

Opportunities for improvement

In contrast, there are some surprise entries and a stark difference in the level of support and business climate in the bottom-ranking states and MSAs for women-owned businesses:

West Virginia: Despite its natural beauty, West Virginia faces challenges in providing adequate support for women entrepreneurs. Limited access to funding and a lack of diverse industries hinder the growth of women-owned businesses in this state.

Vermont: Despite its progressive reputation, Vermont faces challenges in creating an inclusive business environment for women entrepreneurs. Limited access to funding and networking opportunities hinders the growth of women-owned businesses in the state.

Wyoming: Rankings are mixed in the wide open spaces of the west. The state saw a 13.8% growth in the number of women-owned firms but showed a decrease of 4.2% in employment within these firms. While new women-owned firms are emerging, their overall contribution to Wyoming's economy remains minimal, and the state ranks last in all share metrics.

Going forward

A geographical lens shows disparities and offers insights into enhancing the impact of women-owned enterprises on the economy through focused customized economic policies and initiatives. This report again underscores the substantial influence wielded by female entrepreneurs throughout the United States. While certain states and metropolitan statistical areas have experienced notable progress in fostering women-owned businesses, others pinpoint areas where additional support is needed. The disparities in rankings vividly showcase how localized conditions, policies, and opportunities influence women's contributions to the economy. Recognizing and bolstering the accomplishments of women in business is paramount for state and local governments, as these achievements not only shape immediate communities but also establish a foundation for broader economic growth and stability.

To foster a more inclusive environment, states and MSAs can expand women's access to financial resources, encompassing loans, grants and financial incentives. They can:

  1. Introduce or enhance support targeted programs encompassing government supplier diversity initiatives.
  2. Fund and promote training opportunities to grow and sustain healthy businesses targeted specifically for women.
  3. Offer mentoring, counseling, and structured networking opportunities that unite women business owners to create community.
  4. States can alleviate tax burdens and actively advocate for workforce diversity to streamline the business climate.
  5. Launch public awareness campaigns that challenge stereotypes and foster a conducive environment for women in business.

Women-owned enterprises can be an economic win with support.

Kate Isler

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO Co/Founder

With more than 20 years of executive leadership experience as CEO of a tech startup and as an executive at Microsoft, Kate Isler provides a powerful platform of real-world expertise and examples to draw from. Isler is the author of Breaking Borders.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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