There has been no better time than now to be a woman in business. It is no secret that women entrepreneurs are crushing it when it comes to starting businesses. Yet, for all of their enthusiasm and passion, they still lag when it comes to critical indicators for long-term success. While there are many societal and socio-economic challenges that contribute to this gap, generally, women entrepreneurs tend to have the least access to strategic networks, are least likely to be funded or have sufficient operating capital, and are challenged to scale and reach $1 million in revenues or the five-year mark.
According to Carla Harris, Chair of the National Women’s Business Council, “There are more than 10 million women-owned businesses in this country, but while women-owned businesses make up more than a third of the nation’s privately-held businesses, only 3.4 percent of women-owned firms generate $500,000 or more in annual revenues.” Many women-owned businesses fall into two categories (1) not aware of the opportunities and programs that exist to help women-owned businesses do business with corporations, universities, and government (federal, state local,) or (2) too intimidated and afraid to pursue these opportunities. However, one of the best ways that women entrepreneurs can strategically scale and grow their businesses is through their interaction with supplier diversity programs.
Supplier Diversity is a proactive business program, which encourages the use of minority-owned, women owned, veteran, owned, LGBT-owned, service disabled veteran owned, historically underutilized businesses (HUB), and other distinctive categories of small business vendors or suppliers. Through the Division of Small Business and Vendor Diversity Relations (a division within the Office of Business Affairs), the University of Florida has long supported the development and success of women, minority and veteran-owned businesses by ensuring UF’s procurement efforts are as inclusive as possible. This focus is not about being nice…it is a business imperative. Women are the primary purchasers, spending $7 trillion a year. Women are getting a higher number of professional degrees – 58 and 60 percent of bachelor’ degrees and master’s degrees, respectively. It is only natural that they would become an important force when it comes to entrepreneurship.
Presently, we have a full slate of programs for any small business interested in doing business with the university, including the Mentor Protégé Program, which pairs an emerging business with an established, mature business, the Annual Business Opportunity Fair and the Monthly Business Development Workshops. For women entrepreneurs, the road to a successful, thriving enterprise can be very unique and challenging, to say the least. It is these challenges that led us to develop programs specifically for women entrepreneurs. By helping women entrepreneurs connect to resources and opportunities, we feel that we can address their challenges and increase the number of women entrepreneurs in which we are doing business and awarding contracts. Our program offerings for women entrepreneurs include:
The Women’s Business + Leadership Conference is an event that we launched last year during Women’s Small Business Month. Designed to connect, educate, and inspire women entrepreneurs toward execution, the event included speakers, panel discussions and networking for women at all stages of business, from startups to established businesses.
Building on the success of the conference, we wanted to expand our platform and support for women entrepreneurs to help them activate their business ideas. This led us to collaborate with the Small Business Administration – North Florida Office to host the 2017InnovateHER Pitch Competition. Launched in 2015, the InnovateHER Challenge is a pitch competition where the Small Business Administration collaborates with universities, accelerators, resource partners, Microsoft stores and other organizations across the country to host local pitch competitions. The winner of the local competition is eligible to pitch at the national SBA office in Washington DC where they compete for up to $70,000 in prize money. InnovateHER provides an opportunity for women entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. to showcase products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families (30%), have the potential for commercialization (40%), and fill a need in the marketplace (30%). It is our hope to make this an annual event.
In response to the rapidly changing demographics, women entrepreneurs are an important component to our program’s success. Being responsive to this dynamic group will ultimately help us achieve our goal of increasing the number of women-owned businesses we do business with, which is good business for UF and the community.
By Kathey Porter, MBA, CPSD Director, UF Small Business & Vendor Diversity Relations