2017 saw Chicago’s sixth time hosting the Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) program. Over the years, an alumni network of 102 businesses in the area have created 555 jobs and raised over $86 million in debt and equity capital. One of these entrepreneurs is Stephanie Hickman, CEO of Trice Construction Company, one of the most successful women- and minority-owned businesses to have taken part in ICCC. Of the 87 companies that participated in this year’s Chicago cohort, 54% of them were women-owned, up from 44% in 2016. Women like Hickman have seen revenue growth of over 90% after completing the program, and they join the ranks of others like Tamara Nall, CEO of The Leading Niche, whose company was #6 on this year’s Inner City 100 list.
Representation of female entrepreneurs in ICCC has grown to 45% in recent years, and mirrors a larger trend in the growth of women entrepreneurs nationwide. The United States is seeing a continual increase of women creating new businesses and employment opportunities, with a 27 percent growth in women-owned businesses from 2007 to 2012. As ICIC has reported before, women-owned businesses now employ 7.9 million people and generate $1.5 trillion in revenue. While the success of these companies continues to be impressive, the reasons we have seen such an exciting boom in women-owned businesses don’t always get the attention they deserve.
The answer for many of these women? Necessity. A recent report from the National Women’s Business Council explored necessity as a driver of women’s entrepreneurship, and found that women often create businesses to respond to societal challenges and changes. Essentially, due to limitations put on them because of their roles in workplaces and in households, they have to create their own pathway forward. Women may start their own business as a response to a market failure that leaves them behind economically, or to address larger-scale economic problems. During the last recession when jobs were at a premium, many women undertook entrepreneurship because of a lack of traditional jobs. These job shortages were exacerbated in inner cities like those where ICIC works, and further shows why the number of women-owned businesses is growing.
Even with entrepreneurship as popular as it is, there are still barriers to women succeeding in business on a level equivalent to their male counterparts. ICCC’s 2016 Impact Report cites information from the National Women’s Business Council that shows that female CEOs think they don’t have the right mentors or social capital to achieve levels of funding necessary for expansion. It highlights just how important ICCC’s programs are in helping women attain funding and other important business resources. Santander Bank’s newly-launched Cultivate Small Business program is designed to help early-stage entrepreneurs in low-income neighborhoods build and sustain their businesses, with a focus on women-, minority- and immigrant-owned businesses in food-related industries. In just its first year, the program attracted and enrolled 16 women from the Boston area, representing 64% of the group. Similarly, ICCC’s program participants are overwhelmingly women and/or minorities, creating a level playing field for these groups to thrive. These businesses include the woman-owned Olu’s Home, a group home in Minneapolis, which experienced a 329% growth in full-time employees after participating in ICCC, with founder and CEO Gloria Freeman looking forward to opening a second location.
Women approach entrepreneurship in diverse ways, but it is clearly a vehicle for them to create opportunity for themselves and others, especially in inner cities where resources are often limited. Whether women entrepreneurs are driven to create these opportunities out of necessity or simply because they have a desire to be their own boss, these women continue to greatly impact the small business world. Programs such ICCC and Cultivate Small Business were created to help these business owners get ahead, despite the challenges that women in the business world sometimes face. Executive education, coaching, access to capital, networking and contracts are the tools women business owners will continue to use to create small business growth, good-paying jobs, and increasing impact on their local economies.