Starting or expanding a business requires the right mix of resources, strategies and solutions. Thankfully, there are Women's Business Centers (WBCs) in nearly every state that offer programs to help women entrepreneurs. These centers pay specific attention to the challenges that women commonly encounter in this space.

About the Association of Women's Business Centers

The Association of Women's Business Centers (AWBC) is a private sector, nonprofit organization that supports the network of 150 WBC locations around the country, according to Antonella Pianalto, AWBC's president and CEO. The WBC program — established by Congress in 1988 — operates under the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) umbrella with a mission to help women overcome obstacles to success when starting or growing their businesses.

Each WBC offers services that address the needs of its individual community. "The centers collectively provide programming in 35 languages, and most of the centers provide programming in more than one language," says Pianalto.

WBCs serve a significant number of socially and economically disadvantaged women, offering their members various programs that include training, counseling, mentoring and access to capital in general.

The centers are "a significant resource for women-owned businesses," Pianalto affirms. "Last year the network of centers served more than 140,000 clients and held nearly 15,000 training sessions, with almost half a million training hours received by the clients."

Opportunity and Challenges Ahead

According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, there are over 11 million women-owned businesses in the United States, which account for 38 percent of all businesses.

As a result of this growth, there is an increased need to expand the reach of the WBCs as well as the resources that these centers provide, Pianalto notes.

"Since 2007, women-owned businesses have grown 45 percent compared to 11 percent over the same time period for male-owned firms," she says. "Women are growing businesses at 1.5 times the rate of the general population; and since 2007, 1,072 new women-owned businesses each day are launched."

Even though these statistics show impressive growth, women entrepreneurs still face certain challenges, such as achieving a work-life balance. And women may face particular challenges when it comes to access to capital as well, according to Pianalto.

"Women receive only 4.4 percent of conventional small business loan dollars and only 7 percent of venture funds," she explains.

This poses a major challenge, as access to capital allows entrepreneurs to grow their revenue and expand their businesses, which are key drivers of positive economic growth.

WBCs can assist women with access to capital by offering microloans — which are provided by 45 percent of centers — as well as helping to prepare applications for traditional banking loans or SBA loans, according to Pianalto.

Overall, WBCs can provide the support that women entrepreneurs need to position their businesses for success. This is a critical mission, as women that receive proper support often feel empowered and ready to take on their journey of entrepreneurship — factors that will benefit the communities in which they live and, in time, allow for sufficient business growth to help fuel the economy.

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