The Women Entrepreneurs’ Toolbox
Writing a Business Plan
After you come up with an idea, the first thing you’ll need is a business plan. It is the road map for your business, showing where you are now and the route to where you want to be. Most finance organizations will require a business plan before they consider investing or lending you money. Below are some tools to help you create your plan.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), a government agency that helps Americans start, build and grow small businesses, offers advice on writing business plans with templates to guide you.
- Bplans has hundreds of sample business plans, broken down by industry, along with tips on how to write your own. The site also offers a calculator to help you determine your potential business’ break-even point.
- SCORE, a non-profit association dedicated to helping small businesses, has business-plan templates of various types available for download.
Startup accelerators are roughly 12-week boot-camp-like programs that prepare entrepreneurs and help them build their businesses. Entrepreneurs usually end with a “demo day” where they can pitch their businesses to investors. By providing this service and support, accelerators usually get an equity stake in the startups. Accelerators make money when a start-up is acquired or goes public, in which case they can also sell their stakes to a venture investor.
There are more than 200 startup accelerators around the world and a highly competitive applicant pool. Here is a sampling of the accelerators out there:
- Astia is a global not-for-profit organization that supports women as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses. The startup accelerator offers access to capital and assistance in developing the executive leadership of women.
- Circular Board, founded by entrepreneur Carolyn Rodz, is business accelerator that supports female entrepreneurs around the world who are pursuing high-growth ventures.
- Springboard Enterprises is a global platform where entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts meet to build women-led businesses. Springboard educates, sources, coaches, showcases and supports high-growth companies seeking equity capital for expansion.
- Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab from Babson College’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership is a yearlong residency program for women entrepreneurs designed to develop participants skills and help them accelerate their paths from business idea to launch. The program is located in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
- EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women program is a national competition and executive education program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale and then helps them do so.
- NewMe is a Silicon Valley based accelerator that focuses on underrepresented minorities in the technology industry. Eight minority startup founders are admitted every cycle to receive mentorship and assistance from tech entrepreneurs.
- Hera Labs is a San Diego accelerator that provides women-owned startups with mentoring and resources from accomplished entrepreneurial women in the community, including access to industry experts, tools and investment capital.
Social Good-Focused Accelerators:
- Located in Washington, D.C., Halcyon Incubator‘s 12- to 16-month fellowship includes a 4-month residency, access to experienced mentors and eight rent-free months in a workplace. Programs run through the Halcyon Incubator are backed by the S&R Foundation, a nonprofit geared toward supporting innovation in art and science.
- New York-based Echoing Green assists entrepreneurs on the path to impacting the world through a fellowship program that hones their leadership skills and develops their professional networks, among other important foundational elements. Its efforts are supported by the global growth equity firm General Atlantic.
- Global Social Benefit Institute based at Santa Clara University in California has two development programs through which participants are given access to a network of educators and mentors who can help them elevate their businesses. Its online offering is geared toward entrepreneurial individuals who are seeking basic business training and tips, while their accelerator program is made for ventures in more advanced stages of planning.
- The Unreasonable Institute’s unorthodox name might be attributed to its desire to offer an “unreasonable advantage” to each person who participates in its programs to improve the lives of 1 million people. In addition to offering programs out of Boulder, Colo., it also has locations in Mexico and eastern Africa.
- Chicago, Ill.-based Panzanzee caters to for-profit businesses with social impact-oriented goals at the core of their plans, as well as nonprofits looking to create sustainability within their business models to help achieve their goals.
Finding Support and Mentors
Everyone needs help getting their business going. These groups are great places to explore your idea, get practical help and find mentors.
- The SBA has an extensive network of field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations through which the agency provides services to entrepreneurs across the U.S. Find an office near you here.
- Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) are outposts of the SBA that assist women in starting and growing their businesses. There are approximately 100 educational centers nationwide.
- National Women’s Business Council is a non-partisan federal advisory council created to serve as an independent source of advice and counsel to the president, Congress, and the SBA on economic issues of importance to women business owners. Its Grow Her Business site includes nearly 200 resources for entrepreneurs at various stages of growth.
- SCORE provides workshops and mentors through more than 320 chapters in the U.S. that together offer a network of more than 11,000 volunteers. It is supported by the SBA and has been helping entrepreneurs for nearly 50 years. Find a chapter near you here.
- Ellevate Network is a global professional women’s network dedicated to the economic engagement of women worldwide. The membership organization has more than 40 chapters, hosts events and webinars, publishes articles online and invests a portion of its revenue in female-friendly companies.
- My Own Business is nonprofit organization that provides business courses to help aspiring entrepreneurs start companies.
- The Women’s Venture Fund is a nonprofit that helps women entrepreneurs start, build and grow their own businesses. It provides courses, counseling, loans and a network of advisors.
- Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program supports small business owners through educational partnerships with local colleges around the U.S. and the United Kingdom, with one-on-one advice from experienced business professionals, and by working with mission-driven small business lenders to expand access to capital.
- Chic CEO offers lots of free resources and practical information to help women start businesses.
- Many local community colleges offer courses and other resources to entrepreneurs.
Tools & Partners
- The SBA’s SizeUp is a useful tool for benchmarking your business against competitors.
- IdeaCafe’s startup business calculator helps estimate expenses with an easy-to-use first-year budget worksheet that does the math for you.
- Once you get your business up and running, keep track of your cash flow, credit, collections and other variables with this cash flow calculator from Entrepreneur.com.
- Walmart, as a part of its Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, is working to source more of products from women-owned businesses under a program with Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and WEConnect International, which certify businesses as women-owned and supply a special logo.
- IBM Global Entrepreneur is an international program that connect startups to IBM clients, partners, business leaders and technology. It offers SmartCamp, a 28-city program that combines a mentoring bootcamp with networking opportunities and a pitch competition that can gain you access to top-tier mentors and investors and a spot in an incubator plus $25,000 investment prize.
- Microsoft BizSpark is a global program that provides software startups with access to Microsoft software-development tools, connects them with key industry players, including investors, and provides “marketing visibility” to entrepreneurs starting businesses.
- Women in Cloud is an initiative to inspire, empower and accelerate the growth of women-led technology companies. Led by Ignite WA with partners Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Meylah, it offers a network, summit event and an accelerator.
- The Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program provides early stage clean-technology companies with low-cost Autodesk software licenses — digital-prototyping software licenses valued at up to $150,000 can be had for just $50.
- Toptal, an online platform that connects business owners and bosses with freelance technology, design and finance workers, offers a scholarship program to emerging women founders and leaders around the world. Selectees receive $10,000 in grant money and a year of one-on-one mentoring from a Toptal expert.
Networking with Women
A growing number of organizations and events have emerged to help women connect and help each other. Here are some of the most prominent:
- Ellevate works to develop and strengthen women in leadership positions through more than 40 chapters with 30,000 members worldwide and both online and in-person events.
- Meet-Up groups connect women entrepreneurs on a local level.
- National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) is a membership-based organization designed to support and empower women entrepreneurs, regardless of race, religion, age, sexual orientation, national origin or disability, through networking and resources.
- WEConnect International is a corporate-led nonprofit that connects women business owners globally and identifies, educates, registers and certifies women’s enterprises that are at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by one or more women.
- Women 2.0 is a media company that offers content, community and city meet-ups to aspiring and current women innovators in technology. Its mission is to increase the number of female founders of tech startups with inspiration, information and education.
- MIT Enterprise Forum is a nonprofit organization that educates, connects and coaches technology entrepreneurs — enabling them to rapidly transform ideas into viable companies.
- S.H.E. Summit is a women’s leadership conference focused on connecting, educating and empowering women. Ticket prices: $197 – $497
- The Awards Celebration and Conference is a networking opportunity for women entrepreneurs. It is open to winners of the Enterprising Women of the Year Award, corporate supporters, members of the Enterprising Women Advisory Board, VIPs in the women’s business community, readers of Enterprising Women magazine, and members of the magazine’s partner organizations.
- BlogHer PRO is a conference and networking event for bloggers who want to improve their business, marketing and technical skills. Ticket prices: $99 – $999
- Many colleges and universities host conferences for women in business, with ticket prices ranging from free to $50. See a sample below:
There are several ways to fund your business. One of the most common is bootstrapping: paying for upfront costs yourself through savings, grants, loans or borrowing money from friends and family. Some businesses are able to attract angel investors or venture capital investors, who take equity ownership stakes and typically also offer business expertise. Below are a few places where you can learn about the multiple options for accessing capital, and further down information on capital sources themselves, including crowdfunding, microfinance and angel and venture funding.
- The SBA offers a guide to help you understand the ins and outs of financing a business, including information on loans, grants and other funding, as well as SBA-backed bank loans that may be available to your business. Visit its Loan and Grants page to find government programs for which you may be eligible, or get in touch with your local SBA Women’s Business Center for help accessing available grants and loans. Note that the SBA runs an annual InnovateHER competition that awards grants to companies with “innovative products and services that help impact and empower the lives of women and families.”
- A number of large corporations host grant competitions. Contests specifically for women entrepreneurs include those from Eileen Fisher, which awards $100,000 to 10 businesses a year; Cartier Women’s Initiative, which awards $600,000 to six businesses on six continents a year; the Girlboss Foundation, which awards one $15,000 grant to a creative entrepreneur biannually; and The Refinery’s Fueling the Growth pitch competition, which splits $120,000 between five tech-driven companies. Other grants not specific to women are made by FedEx to small businesses and Walmart to nonprofits.
- Women’s Funding Network is a group of more than 160 organizations that help finance women’s initiatives around the world. Funds are searchable through a membership directory.
- Ellevest is an investment platform for women. It allows women to bypass a culture of “investments created by men for men” prevalent in today’s capital markets, while helping them achieve their monetary goals.
- Many small business owners use business credit cards. A number of advice sites, including The Simple Dollar, NerdWallet and CardHub, offer useful guides to help business owners make educated credit decisions. Note that these sites receive compensation from credit-card companies.
- Check out our list of organizations that help women manage their personal finances and achieve economic security.
Crowdfunding leverages the power of the collective to raise funds via public campaigns. In addition to raising money, entrepreneurs often use these platforms to uncover their potential market and gather feedback. Unlike traditional investing, which usually involves a few stakeholders, crowdfunding requires a “crowd” of people who contribute to a greater fundraising goal. These funders are usually incentivized by tiers of rewards offered by a campaign, but a U.S. legal change in May 2016 created the possibility of offering equity ownership to a crowd of small investors. Here are some of the key platforms available:
- Kickstarter is the platform that popularized crowdfunding in the U.S. The projects posted there are funded only if they meet their established fundraising goal.
- Indiegogo is an international crowdfunding site, co-founded by a woman in 2008, that empowers ideas and enables people to donate funds easily. Projects may receive as much money as they raise, irrespective of their set goal.
- Plum Alley is a crowdfunding platform that caters to female fundraisers exclusively.
- iFundWomen also focuses on women-owned businesses exclusively, and promises campaign coaching and help overcoming women’s confidence and funding gaps.
- GoFundMe is another widely-used crowdfunding site.
- CrowdRise facilitates crowdfunding for charities, non-profits and personal causes.
- Start Some Good is a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs seeking to raise funds and grow communities of supporters.
- AngelList allows anyone, no matter their income, to invest in startups and own a piece of a company. It also helps startups find and recruit potential employees.
- EquityNet is a crowdfunding platform for startups and mature businesses that want to raise equity capital from accredited investors. Entrepreneurs can also use EquityNet to analyze and optimize their business plans before they engage investors.
- CircleUp allows anyone to invest and hold stakes in innovative U.S. consumer-products companies.
- Crowdfunder sources and funds high-growth ventures by tapping a network of over 130,000 entrepreneurs and investors. Crowdfunder and its VC Index Fund enable direct online investment in single ventures as well as diversification into a broad VC-led portfolio of early-stage startups.
- Indiegogo, in partnership with MicroVentures, is the first major crowdfunding platform to give entrepreneurs the option of offering backers equity stakes in addition to traditional perks. The duo could bring this new investment opportunity to a much wider audience.
- Portfolia is an investment platform through which investors can make small investments and diversify over six to nine startups. Investors can be as involved as they want with the companies in which they hold stakes.
- WeFunders an equity crowdfunding platform that enables anyone to invest in startup companies.
Angel & Venture Capital for Women
Angel investors are typically wealthy individuals who provide early stage funds for startups. Venture capital is primarily available to businesses that somewhat established and exhibit high growth potential. VCs invest money in your business and provide guidance to help you build or grow. Because of the high risks involved with investing in budding innovative businesses, VCs seek high rates of return.
- The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) provides data and educates entrepreneurs about venture capital.
- Ascend Venture Group is an investment firm that prides itself in offering “a strong network of women and ethnically diverse” business professionals.
- BBG (Built by Girls) Ventures is an early stage fund investing in internet and mobile startups with at least one female founder.
- DBL Investors chooses companies that can deliver top-tier returns and enable social and environmental benefits. It invests in cleantech, information technology and healthcare companies and sustainability-oriented products and services.
- Female Founders Fund is an early-stage fund that invests in and advises startups “led by talented female founders with disruptive and innovative ideas.”
- Golden Seeds is an investment firm that supports women entrepreneurs and the people who invest in them. With an angel network of 250 men and women and a venture capital group, it focuses on early-stage companies. Golden Seeds also provides training in angel and venture investing.
- StarVest Partners is a women-owned VC that invests in expansion stage technology-enabled business-to-business services companies.
- Y Combinator invests a small amount of money in a large number of startups that move to Silicon Valley for three months for a startup acceleration program.
- Better Ventures is especially interested in investing in companies that aim to use technology to solve the world’s many problems. Its “technology for good” campaign backs co-founder teams with business models and potential to tackle issues on a global scale.
- The Pipeline Angels is an investing bootcamp for women philanthropists, offering three main components: education, mentoring and practice.
- 37 Angels is a community of women investors that educates early stage investors and takes founder pitches.
- The producers of the ABC television series Shark Tank are always looking for the next successful entrepreneurs, inventors, businesspeople, creators and innovators to pitch the show’s celebrity investors.
- MedVenture Associates invests in new medical technologies and the entrepreneurs developing them to elevate the next generation of medical practice.
Microfinancing is the practice of extending small loans to individual borrowers who have traditionally lacked access to credit. The main groups are:
- Accion is a private, nonprofit organization that issues microfinance loans to communities throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and the U.S.
- FINCA International is a microfinance network that works to provide financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets and improve the standard of living of their families and communities.
- Grameen America is a not-for-profit microfinance organization that provides financial services to low-income entrepreneurs in the U.S.
- Kiva is a nonprofit online lending platform connecting lenders to entrepreneurs all over the world.
- Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship (FITE) is a partnership between Kiva and the skin-care company Dermalogica to promote microloans for women in the U.S. and overseas.
- Opportunity International provides microloans, savings accounts and insurance to people in poverty around the world, primarily women. It also offers financial tools and training to empower entrepreneurs to build businesses, support their families and transform their communities.
- Women’s World Banking is a microfinance network that aims to expand the economic assets, participation and power of low-income women and their households by helping them access financial services.
The Story Exchange has published a number of lists of useful resources for specific groups of women and girls:
- Supportive spaces for future female STEM employees and entrepreneurs.
- Helpers and community builders for LGBT business owners.
- Resources for minority female entrepreneurs.
- Our project on immigrant entrepreneurs.
Graphics by Natalie Gaisser