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20 years of helping enterprising women

Marketplace Staff Oct 24, 2008

20 years of helping enterprising women

Marketplace Staff Oct 24, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: Twenty years ago today, the Dow closed at 2,170. The blue chips didn’t really do much of anything that day — fell 13 points. Crude oil was about $15 a barrel. “Groovy Kind of Love” covered by Phil Collins topped the pop charts. And only 18 percent of businesses were owned by women.

Congress wanted to better the odds for female entrepreneurs, so on this day back in 1988 it passed the Women’s Business Ownership Act. From the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Mitchell Hartman reports on what’s happened in the past 20 years.

Mitchell Hartman: If you walked into the average startup incubator back in 1988, less than 1 in 5 of the businesses there would have had a woman owner. 20 years on, that’s more than doubled, to 40 percent.

Wilma Goldstein of the Small Business Administration ran the Women’s Business Ownership office until last year. She says the Act helped increase the number and diversity of women-owned businesses.

Wilma Goldstein: There used to be this thought that women started service-oriented businesses — making things at home and selling them. In the last 10 or 15 years or so, there is no area that is untouched by women from running DNA companies to IT companies to these peculiar things that only engineers understand.

Goldstein says, the Act also made it easier for women to get credit. It stopped banks from asking about marital status or requiring a male relative to co-sign a business loan.

Margaret Barton heads the National Women’s Business Council. She says these days, women entrepreneurs can get loans as easily as men. But, she says, women tend to be more risk-averse, and less tied into established financial networks.

Margaret Baron: Women are more likely to go to their own credit cards, their family, their houses to find the seed money to start their own businesses.

That can limit their ability to grow, she says. But that doesn’t mean that female entrepreneurs feel disadvantaged.

Julie Duryea is an entrepreneur in Portland. She runs a co-working facility where people set up temporary office space. She doesn’t see much difference between herself and male entrepreneurs in terms of the desire to make money or grow. The difference, she says, is in the way women view other entrepreneurs.

Julie Duryea: Women tend to be more supportive around each other versus competitive when they’re sharing and hashing out business ideas, I’ve found.

Some women are plenty competitive when it comes to looking at the rules that govern federal contracts. They complain that less than 5 percent go to women-owned businesses. They say raising that number would go a long way to increasing the success of female-owned businesses. But at the SBA, Wilma Goldstein says, new legislation to level the playing field isn’t likely in the short term.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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