Women own 11.6 million businesses in the U.S., employing nine million people and generating more than $1.7 trillion in annual sales revenue. Yet despite impressive growth in women-owned firms, a dramatic wealth gap persists between male- and female-owned businesses. Studies show that women business owners have fewer opportunities for training and business consulting and receive nearly fifty percent less in funding than their male counterparts. These disparities are compounded with minority woman-owned businesses.
The Arkansas Women’s Business Center at Winrock International set out to change this dynamic in 2019 when it piloted Momentum, a first-of-its-kind business accelerator targeting minority women in Arkansas. Momentum provided 10 minority woman-owned businesses with professional development training, mentorship and $500 in seed funding for business development. The five-week accelerator led to the launch and expansion of 10 new minority woman-owned businesses in Arkansas.
Most of the participants sought to transform hobby businesses into full-fledged enterprises. The budding businesses included a vegan soul food caterer, an art studio, a manufacturer of wallets for the visually impaired, a food truck, a scarf and hijab store, and a social justice escape room facility. Across five three-hour workshops, the entrepreneurs received professional development training on topics such as how to register a business with the state, city licenses and a lean canvas (market-driven assessments using customer discovery to identify customer demands). Other topics included business financing, financial structures and creating a perfect business pitch.
Participants left each workshop with action items to complete before their next session, strengthening their businesses in real time as they progressed through the accelerator. For example, one action item required each participant to complete a lean canvas, hold 10 customer discovery interviews and then provide an analysis. After doing so, the women presented their findings to the group and had to pivot their concepts (changing the price, hours, marketing) based on what they learned. In total, the pilot provided 15 training hours and 43 hours of one-on-one consulting, raised $6,000 in additional private capital and secured $1,000 in startup capital for one pitch competition winner. Each participating business also became a client of AWBC, receiving long-term business counseling.
Many of Momentum’s pilot participants attended the sessions during the evening, after their regular jobs were concluded. The accelerator quickly allowed them to bring children along. Today, these women are all business owners. Their example shows why continuing the progress Momentum started is important.