Nurturing women-owned business

Mar. 25, 2014 @ 05:11 PM

In recent years, the number of women-owned businesses in this country and in this state has been increasing at a dramatic rate.

From 1997 to 2013, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States increased by 59 percent – significantly outpacing the overall 47 percent growth in businesses, according to statistics from the National Association of Women Business Owners.

In North Carolina, women-owned businesses increased by 91 percent during that period, according to the association – placing us in among the five states with the greatest such growth.

And, of course, Durham lately has been a hotbed of overall new-business growth, with entrepreneurial startups attracted by our educational institutions, networks of support, government encouragement and a resurgent downtown with plenty of funky, renovated spaces appealing to a young creative class.

An initiative launched here this month wants to assure that those trends converge to foster faster growth in female-led startup businesses here. 

Soar, funded initially by a grant from Google for Entrepreneurs, plans to offer quarterly events and mentorship and importantly to encourage venture capitalists to back new female businesses.

“There are quite a few female entrepreneurs, but there are a lot more females that could be entrepreneurs if there was some more effective networking and mentoring, education and what have you,” Vickie Gibbs, part of the team behind Soar, told The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz. Gibbs, one of a handful of women in her 1991 graduating class at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, founded Albright Digital here in 2007.

Nationally, firms owned by women have faced more daunting difficulties in scaling up than male-owned firms. “Despite the fact that the number of women-owned firms continues to grow at a rate exceeding the national average, and now accounts for 29 percent of all enterprises, women-owned firms only employ 6 percent of the country’s workforce and contribute just under 4 percent of business revenues -- roughly the same share they contributed in 1997,” according to NAWBO.

Here, the folks behind Soar aim to help fuel growth by increasing venture capital available to women entrepreneurs. A Kauffman Foundation report in 2009 noted that women raised about $90,000 on average for their firms, compared with nearly $150,000 for men.

“There’s traditionally been a networking process in the venture capital world that hasn’t been as friendly to women,” Lauren Whitehurst, another leader in launching Soar, told the Triangle Business Journal.
“Most venture capitalists are men,” she said in TBJ. “There just aren’t nearly as many VCs that are women, and a lot of times I’ll work with a female leader of a startup and I’ll totally get her idea, and her idea has huge merit in my opinion, but it’s just not an idea that will resonate with men. ... It’s just not in their sphere.”

Soar offers exciting prospects for business growth here. Durham’s history of diversity and entrepreneurial activity should make us a natural leader in nurturing the growth of women-owned businesses.  We welcome the energy and promise of the initiative.