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Show Us the Money! How to Get Funding for Projects or Businesses






Whether you work in a large corporation or start your own business, you will always have to fight for resources. Getting them and allocating them shrewdly is a key to success. Women have a notoriously hard time borrowing money, and we’re often forced to rely on high-interest, short-term credit, if we can get loans at all.

Senator Hillary Clinton, a champion of global micro-credit, has said: “Although the economic plight of a poor woman in Bangladesh who wants a loan to buy a second milk cow or sewing machine may seem worlds away from that of a technology entrepreneur in San Francisco, the bottom line is this: No matter where they live, women need help breaking down the barriers to capital.”

Many entrepreneurs start out at the concept stage by bootstrapping their startup themselves, or by turning to friends and family for financing. Once a startup grows beyond these initial resources, however, women entrepreneurs face the challenge of crossing the capital chasm to take their ventures to the next level.

  • Learn how to bootstrap your business. Maria de Lourdes Sobrino arrived in California from Mexico City with fond memories of her mother’s kitchen and gelatin treats for family and friends.  Astonished that ready-to-eat gelatin did not exist in the U.S., Maria (whose nickname was Lulu), opened a small storefront in Torrance in 1982, where she made 300 cups of gelatin a day by hand.  She had no outside funding at all until 3 years later, when she got an SBA loan in 1985. Today, Lulu's Dessert Corporation has more than 70 employees, more than $6.1 million in sales, makes 130 million cups of desserts a year, and is ranked among the largest and fastest growing Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States.
  • Find an incubator. Cate Muther had been the senior marketing officer at the networking giant Cisco Systems, when she drew on her private-sector experience to start the Women's Technology Cluster. The first incubator specifically targeted to female high-tech entrepreneurs, the WTC was the first project of the Three Guineas Fund, a foundation Cate funded herself and named after a Virginia Woolf essay on philanthropy and women's financial independence.
  • Get money from the Small Business Administration.  SBA's 8(a) Program is designed to level the playing field for minorities. Leticia Herrera's company is a stone-and-metal restoration and cleaning services now called ECI (formerly named Extra Clean, Inc.).  When she started her company, she faced an intensely competitive environment in the Chicago metropolitan area. Using her SBA's 8 (a) designated status to seek and negotiate contracting opportunities available to minority and women-owned businesses, she grew her company, in 11 years, to 50 employees, with annual revenues close to $3 million. And her clients include the City of Chicago.
  • Borrow—by finding agencies that will really lend you money. The author, launching the first vinifera ( the classic European and California wine grape) vineyard and winery in remote West Texas, and was offered a low- interest government loan for $2 million+ that was designed for start-up industries in towns of less than 20,000 (my rural location in the shadow of Blue Mountain, Fort Davis, Texas had 850); all I had to do was submit the application. However, after a series of run-ins, the local agricultural agent gave me the true heads-up:  “Look, lady. Everyone in this town, including me and my son, wants to be a farmer or rancher.  My son has to work in the pharmacy, and I have to work here.  So, your application is never leaving this desk, and you are never getting this loan.” Lesson learned: avoid male-dominated industries and lending agencies. Try to work with lending agencies that have a stated policy of wanting to lend money to women: for example, Wells Fargo, or one of the many federal programs (if you can steel yourself for the red tape).
  • Get money from Small Business Investment Companies. Whitney Johns Martin is founder of Capital Across America, a Small Business Investment Company (SBIC).  Her company was the first SBIC in the 40-year history of the program to focus on investing in women-led companies. Through Capital Across America and its co-investors, more than $45 million has been invested in women-led ventures since 1998. Johns Martin is also co-founder and manager of the Texas Women Ventures Fund in Dallas and a past national president of NAWBO.
  • Find angel investors who will be interested in your industry and business. Angel investors generally invest $50,000 to $500,000, and they invest in 50 times the number of deals venture capitalists do. It’s also patient money, willing to wait 3-7 years for a return. Kimberlie L. Cerrone, managing director of The Angels Forum, has extensive strategic planning, deal-making, and international business and legal experience. Several venture capital firms—including Softbank, Sevin Rosen, USVP, Asia Pacific, Bessemer, Rock Creek, and Chevron Ventures—regularly introduce Kimberlie to early-stage portfolio companies. She often joins these companies as an executive, consultant, or advisor, to help them establish patent and trademark portfolios, perfect their sales and licensing strategies, establish legal and financial methodologies, and execute their early strategic international, vendor, and customer deals.
  • Find the right venture capitalists.  These investors are looking for a business that, in 3 to 5 years, will have $30 million in sales in a global business opportunity. Although almost all are strictly in it for profit and are impatient and impersonal, there are a few for which “generativity” has kicked in—that is, the desire and commitment to guide the next generation of successful entrepreneurs and help pave the way for their success. Gayle Crowell began her career as an educator for the State of Nevada, and did such an outstanding job that she was recruited into the tech sector, with executive roles at leading software companies (including Oracle, E.piphany, and RightPoint Software). Now an active Silicon Valley leader, she is a venture capitalist at Warburg Pincus, helping others get their start.

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