WOSBs Getting Their Contracting Groove On?

How are women business owners doing in the federal procurement marketplace? According to a new report, authored by Womenable for the American Express OPEN for Government Contracts program, the answer is “increasingly well.” Even though, on average, women business owners who are active federal contractors have been seeking contracts for less time than their male counterparts, they are every bit as successful in terms of overall revenue and employment, and are rapidly catching up in terms of federal contract award value.

pot_o_goldOne reason for their growing success may be the increased traction of the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Procurement Program, established in 2011. Two years ago, just over one-third (37%) of women business owners who had self-certified as a woman-owned small business (WOSB) found that designation to be useful in seeking contracting opportunities. Now, a 67% majority of WOSBs find the designation useful, including 28% who find it very or extremely useful.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • In each of the three American Express OPEN for Government Contracts surveys, women-owned firms have been found to invest less time and money researching opportunities and submitting proposals for federal contracts. In 2012, women-owned firms spent $112,112 pursuing federal contracts, compared to the $137,040 investment made by men-owned firms;
  • The average investment made by small businesses in seeking federal contracts has, however, risen dramatically over the past three years, with a greater than average increase seen among women-owned firms (up 59% compared to a 49% increase among all small contractors);
  • While women invest less time and money seeking federal contracts, their prime and sub-contracting bidding activity and success rates match the average for all active small firm contractors; and
  • On average, it takes a small business new to the federal procurement marketplace about two years (24 months) and 4.7 unsuccessful bids before winning that all-important first contract. It took women business owners less time and effort (20 months and 4.3 unsuccessful bids) to land their first contract compared to their male counterparts (25 months and 5.0 unsuccessful bids).

So, while selling goods and services to federal agencies may not be the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” for many small businesses – including an increasing number owned by women – federal procurement is an important avenue to business growth.

You may download and read the report, “Women-Owned Small Businesses in Federal Procurement: Building Momentum, Reaping Rewards,” at the highlighted link. This report is the second in a series of four reports. The first, “Trends in Federal Contracting for Small Businesses,” may also be downloaded and read. The other two reports, the next focused on trends in federal contracting among minority business owners and the final, taking a look at how small business owners are utilizing subcontracting and teaming to achieve procurement success, are forthcoming.

Policy Spark Plugs for Women’s Entrepreneurship

October 25th, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 in the United States – which is frequently referred to as the “big bang” of women’s enterprise. The law extended equal access to business credit to women business owners, directed the US Census Bureau to include all women-owned firms in its business census, established the women’s business center technical assistance program, and established the National Women’s Business Council – giving women business owners a seat at the federal policymaking table.sparkplug

What other spark plugs for women’s enterprise are out there? My fellow womenablers might want to check out the former Gender Law Library at the World Bank, now part of the Women, Business and the Law website. You can search by country or topic, and you may also wish to download the new 2014 Women, Business and the Law report. Regional fact sheets are also available.

Women’s enterprise development does not always have to be sparked by legislative action. In May 2003, a Strategic Framework for Women’s Enterprise was launched by the Labour government in the United Kingdom, which led to a number of positive programs for women’s enterprise development. Unfortunately, a party-launched initiative can fall by the wayside when leadership changes hands – as happened in the UK in 2010, when Conservative David Cameron became Prime Minister and promptly cut funding for women’s entrepreneurship, and indeed for small business development support in general.

This happened as well in Canada,  not too long after their Prime Minister’s Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs – Report and Recommendations was unveiled with great promise but unfulfilled potential. The report was launched in October 2003 – just two months before Prime Minister Jean Chretien left office. Even though his successor was of the same party, the initiative did not gain traction.

A Sterling Milestone

Marking the Silver Anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988

This month marks a sterling anniversary – the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988. The law, also affectionately known as H.R. (House Resolution) 5050, was signed into law on October 25, 1988. It ushered in a true renaissance of growth and progress for women’s enterprise development. Womenablers often refer to the WBO Act of 1988 as the ‘big bang” of women’s entrepreneurship.

NAWBO leader Susan Hager testifies at the HR5050 hearings

NAWBO leader Susan Hager testifies at the HR5050 hearings (photo by Olive Rosen)

There were four main tenets of the law:

  1. Capital: The law extended the gender equality of access to credit provided in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 to include business credit. Just think, prior to 1988 women business owners could not get business credit in their own name!
  2. Capitol: The Act also established the National Women’s Business Council, which provides the women’s business community with a seat at the table in the US Capitol and in federal policy circles. The NWBC is comprised of individual women business owners and representatives of women’s business organizations, and must submit an annual report to the President, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration each year. Read past annual reports HERE to learn what recommendations the NWBC has made to federal policymakers.
  3. Counseling: The law also launched a “demonstration project” of entrepreneurial education and counseling focused on female clients. From four initial pilot programs in 1989 has grown over 100 women’s business centers today, providing technical assistance, education, coaching and counseling, group and peer-to-peer mentoring, and ongoing support to both would-be and existing women (and men) business owners. Many former clients come back and teach and mentor. Do you have a skill or a story to share with budding entrepreneurs? Find a women’s business center near you and volunteer!
  4. Counting: Finally, the law directed the U.S. Census Bureau to include ALL women-owned businesses in their next quinquennial census. Up until that time, the census did not include all industries or all legal forms of business organization. Upon the publication of the 1992 Census in 1995, when C corporations were included for the first time, the number of women-owned firms increased by just 9%, but employment jumped by 111% and revenues generated by women-owned firms skyrocketed by 145%. Women-owned firms were finally on the map!

Take a moment and think about how much easier it is for women starting businesses now than it was for our foremothers prior to 1988 – when there were no women’s business centers, no complete accounting of the number and economic clout of women-owned businesses, no National Women’s Business Council, and no ability to access business credit without a male co-signer.

Some folks are already taking note of the impending anniversary. Click on the following links to read a blogpost from CAMEO (the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity), an op-ed piece from Connecticut WDBC director (and NWBC council member) Fran Pastore, and an article from WIPP co-founder Barbara Kasoff. And check out what we had to say five years ago at the 20th anniversary during a panel discussion at an academic conference!

And stay tuned – women’s enterprise leaders are talking now about gathering en masse next Spring to celebrate the accomplishments of the past 25 years and talk more seriously about what the movement – and women business owners – need going forward.

In the meantime, we’d like to start a social media conversation about the past 25 years of women’s entrepreneurship. Tweet and post your thoughts about the progress we’ve made, and the work that’s yet to be done. Use the hashtag #WBOAct@25. What are your thoughts, reflections, calls to action? Ready, set, go!