Twenty-Five Years in the Making

The Women’s Business Ownership Act was passed more than twenty-five years ago. Since then, Woman Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs) have become a major force in the U.S. economy. Today, there are approximately more than 8.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue and employing nearly 7.7 million people.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is one of the largest loan guarantors in the country and helps entrepreneurs establish and grow their small businesses through a variety of programs. The SBA’s WOSB program, specifically, enables federal agencies to set aside contracts specifically for Woman-Owned Small Businesses in order to help the Government reach its goal of awarding 5% of all federal contracting dollars to WOSBs. This goal translates to more than $20 billion in contracting opportunities, and has never been reached. Earlier this year, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) removed caps on eligible federal contract awards under this program, enabling WOSBs to receive contracts greater than the previously imposed caps of $4 and $6.5 million. SBA hopes that without this limitation, in addition to provided services, WOSBs will have greater success in the Federal Marketplace.

Antonella Pianalto, vice president of government affairs for American Express, recently expressed that women are “vastly underrepresented in the $500 billion a year the government spends on contracting. With women having reached only 4 percent of the law’s goal of 5 percent of contracting for women-owned business, some $4 billion remains on the table. The stage is set for us like never before. What we need is for women to step up to the challenge.”

The SBA’s WOSB program offers numerous services. The Office of Women’s Business Ownership, for example, oversees more than 100 Women’s Business Centers to assist women start and grow small businesses. The Management and technical assistance provided by the centers offers WOSBs comprehensive training and counseling. In 2012 the WBC network served more than 100,000 individual clients and provided $40.5 million in loans and other investments. The SBA also delivers counseling and training through its network of Small Business Development Centers, SCORE and veterans’ organizations. These organizations offer free or low-cost seminars, conferences and workshops to help start new businesses and contribute to the growth of existing ones.

One of the SBA’s latest efforts to assist WOSBS is the ChallengeHER Campaign. ChellengeHER is a new initiative that leverages the resources of SBA and its partners to promote the WOSB Federal Contract Program to agencies and, in turn, help boost government contracting opportunities for WOSBs, in part by training the contracting and acquisition workforce to effectively utilize the WOSB program.

There are currently more than 13,000 women in SBA’s small business registry, but with outreach and training, that number could be grow exponentially. ChallengeHer challenges WOSBs to create and maintain high-growth firms by using the resources available to effectively compete for Federal Contracts . This, in turn, will help the ChallengeHER Campaign and the SBA’s Woman Owned Small Business Program to ensure that WOSBs have the access and opportunity they need to succeed. Ultimately, their success depends on you.