Many women-owned businesses suffer from insufficient capital during the early stages of their enterprises. Possible reasons for this include limited accessibility to traditionally male dominated financial networks, unavailability of capital, and borrower risk aversion. This leads to women-owned businesses generating lower revenues and creating fewer jobs.
As the founder of a Georgia-based CDFI, Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), I am familiar with this challenge. CDFIs, or Community Development Financial Institutions, work in markets that are underserved by traditional financial institutions and are certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. At the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative America Meeting, ACE made a Commitment to Action to increase the financial and social capital available for women entrepreneurs in rural north Georgia and Atlanta.
To fulfill this commitment, ACE is collaborating with existing women’s business organizations, along with other leaders, to strengthen what’s working and create more effective ways to grow businesses in the region. We call the initiative WISE: Women Investing in Successful Entrepreneurs. WISE combines the skill building seminars, networks, and mentors of our collaborators with ACE’s ability to increase loans. The two-year WISE commitment began in November 2013. To date, $2.2 million has been loaned to 24 women-owned small businesses, 48 percent of which were owned by low-to-moderate income women, and 28 percent by women of color. With this funding, these businesses have created or saved 131 Georgia jobs. The capital for WISE was secured through relationships forged at CGI America 2013.
At this year’s CGI America meeting in June 2014, the lack of capital access for U.S. main street businesses, regardless of gender, remained a critical issue for the Community Investing Working Group in its second year. This year’s Working Group had 90 participants tackling a range of financing issues for low- and moderate- income neighborhoods. Within the Working Group, we formed two subgroups to approach solutions for the problem of the approximate 8,000 small business loan requests that are declined daily by traditional banking institutions. Fortunately for us, an SBA Associate Administrator, entrepreneurs, private investors, and representatives from foundations and leading CDFIs were all in the room, eager to develop new solutions.
Our subgroups started from two core insights. First, that we need to leverage innovative credit technologies across community lenders. These improvements would lower the cost of service and expand the lending options each CDFI can offer.
Second, that CDFIs need a shared platform to access affordable capital at scale. By creating this shared platform, CDFIs would be able to transfer some of the traditional small business loans and their associated risk to institutional investors with greater ease, thus creating more capital for them to lend to other small businesses.
While the subgroups each tackled one of these challenges, I was most excited about an initiative that emerged at the end of our sessions that linked both challenges together. This initiative aims to create a shared platform that is specifically designed to fund loans screened through vetted, innovative credit technologies. Combining these two approaches will streamline the process by which CDFIs obtain capital, reduce transaction costs, and enable CDFIs like ACE to focus more on serving clients.
An array of attendees representing investment institutions, philanthropy, and several leading CDFIs joined me in committing to further work on this topic. I’m tremendously excited to see what comes of these collaborative efforts.
In June of 2014, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton hosted the fourth meeting of CGI America, an annual event focused on finding solutions that promote economic recovery in the United States. For more information, visit cgiamerica.org.