The impact women have on the U.S. economy is growing every year. In fact, women business owners are one of the fastest growing segments of small businesses in the country. Consider these statistics from the National Association of Women Business Owners:
- Over 11.6 million firms are owned by women
- Woman-owned businesses employ almost 9 million workers
- In 2017, these same businesses generated $1.7 trillion in revenue
- 39% of all privately-held firms in the U.S. are women-owned
Despite the gains women are making in the economy, there’s room for improvement for female business owners. That’s why many loan programs are making a concerted effort to get women to apply, and some have set aside funds for women, minorities, and those in underrepresented groups.
Given how these loans can take months to get approval, it’s best to research long before you need access to small business financing. Remember, loans–unlike grants–require repayment, so you’ll need to demonstrate your business’ ability to make timely periodic payments to help document your business’ creditworthiness.
Note: There generally aren’t “women loans,” and you won’t find the government or other entities offering loans designed only for women. Instead, there are places on the average application to indicate your personal information, and this may be used to approve you for funds if they have been set aside specifically for traditionally disadvantaged groups–like women. The loan process, name of the loan, and the application won’t look different for a woman than any other applicant.
Be aware though, you will still need to meet all the other creditworthiness qualifications for loan approval.
Best Business Loans for Women Entrepreneurs
Here are some loans women-owned businesses can start looking into now, so you’re ready to go when it’s time to fund the next stage of business growth.
1. Small Business Administration Lender Match—7(a) Small Business Loan
Available to all small businesses that meet certain guidelines, these SBA loans are served through a program called Lender Match. Put in your info, and you’ll be contacted by a willing bank or lender that meets your needs and is best suited to provide the type of funding you’re looking for. You’ll know if you qualify to continue the process of meeting with a lender within two days. Not everyone who signs up will qualify.
To be eligible for SBA loans, you must be a U.S.-based, for-profit business of a certain size that has an owner that is materially invested in the business. SBA loans require the businesses to have exhausted all other methods of funding first. You’ll also need acceptable personal credit and a good business credit history. Annual revenue matters, as well.
The 7(a) loan program can be used for a number of business loan purposes and could be a good option for a working capital loan.
2. Rural Business and Industrial Loans
According to the GovLoans.gov website, “The purpose of the [Rural] Business & Industrial (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program is to improve, develop, or finance business, industry, and employment and improve the economic and environmental climate in rural communities.”
This is technically a loan for cooperative agencies (profit or non-profit), an individual, a tribe, or a public body. To qualify your business or organization must serve a rural area and:
- Hire workers
- Improve the economic or environmental climate around you
- Promote clean water for aquaculture, or
- Promote renewable energy solutions
To apply for this lending opportunity, visit the USDA Rural Development office near you.
3. USDA (Farm Services Administration–FSA) Women Farmers and Ranchers
The FSA has a renewed focus on giving even more money to underserved farmers and ranchers, through several programs. These are open to most small farmers, but they do put a focus on providing funds to the underserved–including women. These long-term financing programs include:
- Operating and Farm Ownership Microloan program
- Youth Loan
- Guaranteed Loans
- Direct Operating Loans
- Direct Farm Ownership Loans
The best way to know which program best suits your farm or agricultural business is to partner with your local FSA office. They can point you in the right direction for your business size, goals, and method of farming (organic, for example.)
4. SBA 8(a) Business Development Program
While not specifically aimed at women (and not a loan), this program offers guidance for “small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people or entities.” Presumably, this includes women, and the program is marketed to women’s business groups as well as minorities. To apply for an 8(a) status, you’ll want to go through the certification site (just be sure to have your new SAM number first.)
Once accepted and given 8(a) status, you’ll enjoy many benefits, such as:
Eligibility to compete for set-aside government contracts, mentoring, access to a business opportunity specialist, and assistance with various business specialties such as marketing and technology.
To get started with any of the SBA programs start by contacting your local office. Businesses who work alongside their local chapter have better results in getting funding and resources than those who don’t. This is a good option for even those with less-than-perfect credit who need advice on business ownership.
5. P2P Loans
Another option for borrowing is by getting money from private investors. Peer-to-peer loans have come a long way since they first hit the scene almost a decade ago. Whether you choose to look for money through a more service-minded platform like Kiva or pick one that’s aimed to serve a larger business landscape, getting funds directly from individual lenders is easier than it has ever been before. They are open to a wider range of credit scores, those with only established personal credit, and those with bad credit.
6. Private Small Business Loans
In addition to the SBA, there are private, for-profit businesses that will offer financing to women. Like SBA loans, you will need you to have good to excellent credit, a reliable business history, a business plan for how you will spend the loans, and projection of profits to show that you can pay the money back. Collateral may be required, as well.
Where do you find these small business loans for women? You might want to start with the banks and financial institutions you already do business with, such as your mortgage holder or auto lender. These traditional lenders have much of your information on file and already know you as a customer. They may sometimes knock a portion of a point from the interest rate of your business loan as a reward for your loyalty.
Another way is to search for online lenders, much like you would a credit card. Small business loans come in all sizes, from a few thousand dollars to $1,000,000 or more. Realistically, if your business is modest, young, and new to borrowing money, you’ll find a smaller amount easier to obtain. These online, alternative lenders will also lend to many businesses traditional lenders like the bank or the SBA may not. The will also approve a small loan amount than many traditional lenders will and often deal with loan amounts in the $20,000 to $50,000 range (often considered a micro-loan). In other words, even if you have less-than-perfect credit, you may qualify provided you can demonstrate a healthy business and the ability to make periodic payments.
You may also consider business credit cards. As you show satisfactory progress in paying that back and raise your business and personal credit score, the doors of opportunity for more business financing options should open.
7. Grants for Women-Owned Businesses
Business loans for women may be more common and easier to get, but you shouldn’t give up hope of getting some of that free money just yet. It’s still worth looking into small business grants that are aimed at women and the general population who want to take their businesses to the next level.
8. Girlboss Foundation
This female-empowerment-focused group offers a $15,000 grant biannually, plus word-of-mouth buzz through its social platforms and website. Since 2014, it’s handed out over $130,000 to qualified women business owners. Check the site to see when the next round opens for women entrepreneurs!
9. Amber Grant
Could you be one of a dozen women who gets a $2,000 cash Amber Grant each year? If so, you’ll also get the chance to compete for the bigger grant of $25,000. You’ll need to pay $25 to apply for this grant, but with a reputation of handing out grants since 1998, it’s something to consider. Applications for this widely-recognized grant program are open until March each year, and winners are picked at the end of each calendar year.
10. AAUW Community Action Grants
Is there an option just for a non-profit organization? Of course, and the AAUW Community Action grant may be it! This award focuses on rewarding non-profits and programs that help women and girls in your immediate community. Administered by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), it’s designed to help elevate and empower women all over the country. If you have a project specifically designed to help K-12 or community colleges that promote STEM learning for women and girls, you’ll be given special consideration. Apply for these one or two-year grants and be one of the many women who have been helped by over $3.9 million in funding since its inception.
11. Cartier Women’s Initiative
Open each June to women-owed, for-profit businesses around the world, the Cartier Women’s Initiative offers grants of $30,000 to $100,000. Female entrepreneurs should be prepared to spend a lot of time on the application process! Small business owners who win will be hosted at the annual conference and get one-on-one mentoring and support for years to come.
12. Nav Small Business Grant
While not exclusively for women-owned businesses, the quarterly Nav Small Business Grant is a tremendous opportunity for a growing business. Applications can be submitted either through Facebook or LinkedIn, and applicants should provide a well-researched plan for how they would put the prize money to work in their business. First place winners receive $10,000 and a profile on Nav’s website.
13. Angel Investors and Venture Capitalists Geared Towards Women
There’s another kind of funding to consider: angel investing and venture capitalism. These can sometimes get small business owners a much larger amount, without the same requirements as a traditional bank or credit union. Be prepared to market yourself in much the same way as you would when fundraising on crowdfunding platforms. You may also have to give up a little control of your company, as well as equity – depending on the type of funding you choose.
Here are some options with an eye on developing women-owned businesses.
14. The Pink Ceiling
This business incubator is aimed at a business owned by women or that serve women. The “Pinkubator,” as it’s called, accepts pitches from small business owners on an ongoing basis, and the application form is quite simple. If Cindy and her team like what they see, you may be eligible to partner with her network for investors.
15. 37 Angels community of women investors
The 37 Angels community boasts a funding decision in four weeks after you fill out the form and do a 20-minute phone call to see if you’re a fit for their funding goals. If you earn a spot in the 8 to go through (out of 400), you can pitch to their investors. Each funded project gets between $50k and $150K from the network. Pitch sessions happen every other month for the female entrepreneurs to make their sale.
16. The Women’s Capital Connection –
After a lengthy application and interview session, your business may be posted on a forum for all of the investor members of the Women’s Capital Connection to view. Interested investors will indicate interest, and you can go from there. The group works to provide high ROI for investors and access to early-stage financing for “high-potential women-led businesses and entrepreneurs.”
17. BELLE Capital USA
This female-focused angel investment group is specifically looking for early-stage U.S. businesses in underserved capital markets in the following industries:
- digital/mobile/internet (IT)
- technology-enabled products and services
- life sciences/medical devices/health I.T. (Digital Health)
Other female entrepreneurs may be considered for financing. Pitches are accepted online.
18. Female Founders Fund
Driven by the belief that women make better entrepreneurs (but receive less overall funding), Female Founders Fund is actively looking to fund those big ideas from women-owned businesses. They focus on financing institutional seed-stage companies, but will also make small, supporting investments to small business owners outside these parameters. They are specifically interested in B2B and B2C marketplaces, e-commerce brands, web-enabled services, and tech platforms.
What are the best women’s small business grants in 2020?
We’ve listed a few above, including the Cartier Women’s Initiative and Girlboss grants. Each has unique application requirements, including location, size, and whether your business is non-profit. You can also see what grants the government offers small business owners at the Grants.gov website.
Do women’s small business government loans exist?
While most loans are open to all qualified business, not just women entrepreneurs, it might pay to become a certified women-owned business. With this certification, you can not only apply for the same financing everyone else can, but you can also be considered for government projects. When you bid on government projects, the government considers certified businesses over others in certain instances. There’s definitely an advantage. Don’t discount business centers and training programs that some of these loan programs provide, as well. There’s more to business growth than financing.
Should I consider peer-to-peer lending for women?
Peer-to-peer lending (also known as P2P) is a good funding option for many businesses, even those with new- or lower-credit scores who may not be interested in higher-cost term loans. However, because lenders can select the type of projects they align with, they might be attractive to the idea of helping a woman-owned business and even offer more generous repayment terms for short-term loans. This same strategy can work for other business types, too. Someone seeking loans for minority-owned businesses, for example, could see interest through a P2P platform for someone hoping to fund diverse business ideas, including women entrepreneurs.