Guest opinion: Support female entrepreneurs on Small Business Saturday


When Small Business Saturday arrives this Saturday, Nov. 24, it will offer an easy-going, community-oriented alternative to the crowded frenzy of Black Friday and the chair-bound isolation of Cyber Monday.

For those of us on the Midpeninsula, it's a chance to bump into neighbors, catch up on news and remind ourselves how much we owe our local entrepreneurs for making our various main streets -- for us that means Santa Cruz Avenue, University Avenue and Castro Street -- so reflective of who we are and what we value.

Although they are often overshadowed by corporations and box store chains, small businesses remain the true engine of the American economy. According to the Small Business Administration, there are 30 million small businesses in the U.S., and they account for nearly half of all jobs. Since 2010, small business has accounted for nearly half of the gross domestic product.

It is at the local level that most of us understand small business, which is why we at Opportunity Fund are encouraging everyone to get out Nov. 24 and support our local entrepreneurs. This year, let's particularly seek out women entrepreneurs, who systematically face a tougher lending and start-up environment than their male counterparts. Ninety-nine percent of women-owned businesses are small businesses, and by every measure -- access to capital, wooing venture capital, building a credit history -- women entrepreneurs are still playing catch-up. Women get only 4 percent of commercial loan dollars and 7 percent of venture capital funding. Immigrant women and women of color have an even harder time.

I head the San Francisco-based community development financial institution Opportunity Fund, which focuses on turning these numbers around by giving microbusiness loans to women, immigrants, people of color and other underserved populations. But I well remember the sting of biased lending practices in my own life. Thirty-three years ago, I couldn't get a credit card from the very bank I worked for. The reason: As an immigrant and recent college graduate, I had no credit history. I also remember the sea change that occurred in 1988 when Congress passed the Women's Business Ownership Act, which allowed women to get a loan without a male relative needing to cosign for it.

We have come a long way since then in advancing women's entrepreneurship, but we still have a long way to go. We must build a more inclusive financial system that gets women business owners the responsible and affordable capital they need to grow and sustain their businesses for themselves and their families. If not, we are cutting ourselves off from a tremendous source of entrepreneurial dynamism -- one that creates jobs and economic activity, at home, where we can see it and benefit from it.

The economic impact of increased female entrepreneurial participation is already significant and holds the potential to continue to be a major driver of economic growth. According to data compiled from the U.S. census, the economic impact of women-owned businesses now stands at $3 trillion. Women-owned businesses are credited with creating or sustaining 23 million jobs.

Let's build on this momentum -- starting now. Get out there Saturday and support local women entrepreneurs. See you on Castro Street.

Luz Urrutia of Mountain View is the CEO of Opportunity Fund, a community development financial institution with the largest portfolio of microbusiness loans under management among nonprofit lenders in the nation.

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