Black Women Entrepreneurs Setting a Fast Pace, Despite Obstacles

At a White House-sponsored conference on Women-Owned businesses, Obama administration officials report gains in the face of scarce capital.

Posted: 02/03/2012 01:19 PM EST

Woman-owned businesses are growing more rapidly than the national average, with companies owned by African-American women growing at an even larger pace, according to a senior official of the United States Department of Commerce.

Those were among the many facts that emerged at a forum presented in New York City by the Obama administration, which sent some of its highest-ranking women in the field of business to speak with more than 200 women entrepreneurs.  

The event was sponsored by the White House Business Council, the White House Council on Women and Girls and the United States Small Business Administration.

“The good news is that women businesses are growing more rapidly,” said Rebecca M. Blank, the acting deputy secretary of commerce. “Also, women make up a far larger percentage of minority-owned business than they do in white-owned businesses.”

However, Blank said that women who own businesses start with far less capital than men and that the size of their companies tend to be far smaller.

“Women are far less likely to use external capital and more likely to rely on their own credit cards,” Blank said. “And the question is: How do we open more avenues to access to capital for women.”

The daylong conference, held at Barnard College in New York City, featured presentations by a number of women entrepreneurs and senior officials of the Obama Administration. It was designed to provide guidance, support and networking opportunities for women in the New York area who operate their own businesses.

In addition to Blank, the administration officials at the conference included Valarie B. Jarrett, the senior advisor to the president; Karen Mills, the administrator of the United States Small Business Administration; Marie C. Johns, the deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration; and Rosie Rios, the treasurer of the United States.

In addition, there were several notable women entrepreneurs, including Arianna Huffington, the president and chief executive of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group; Donna James, the chair of the National Women’s Business Council and the managing director of Lardon & Associates, a consulting group.

James, who was selected by President Obama to head the business counsel, said that the number of companies started by African-American women grew nearly 67 percent between 2002 and 2007, compared with an increase of 20 percent for all women-owned business nationally.

She also said that sales for businesses owned by Black women stood at nearly $37 billion, an increase of 78 percent since 2002. The top industries for African-American women were health care and social assistance, administrative and support and waste management.

Many of the entrepreneurs who spoke at the conference stressed the importance of women pursuing fields for which they had a passion as well as the urgency of developing a well-researched business plan.

“I had to learn to really crunch the numbers and to understand the necessity of doing the financials,” said Monique Greenwood, the owner and chief executive of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns, a 16-year-old hospitality company with properties in Brooklyn, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“It’s extremely important for women to follow their passions — and to do the financial work,” she said.

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(Photo: Cavan Images / Getty Images)

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