Interested in starting a business or growing the one you have? Find helpful resources below.
There are a number of no or low cost online and offline groups, organizations and resources out there to help you along your entrepreneurial journey. We’ve compiled them here to help you start and grow your business.
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 Small Business Administration (SBA) is a government organization that helps Americans start, build and grow their small businesses. Through an extensive network of field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations, the SBA provides services to entrepreneurs across the U.S. Find an office near your home here.
• Women Business Centers (WBCs) are a division of the SBA that teach and assist women to start and grow their businesses. There are approximately 100 educational centers nationwide. Find a center in your state here.
• SCORE is a non-profit association dedicated to helping small businesses by providing workshops and mentorships. They are supported by the SBA and have been helping entrepreneurs for nearly 50 years. Find a chapter near you here.
• My Own Business, Inc is nonprofit organization that provides business courses to help aspiring entrepreneurs start their own businesses.
• The Women’s Venture Fund is a nonprofit that helps women entrepreneurs start, build and grow their own businesses. They provide courses, counseling, loans and a network of advisors.
• Chic CEO offers lots of free resources and practical information to help women start a business.
You can also check out your local community college to find courses and other resources that may be available.
WRITING A BUSINESS PLAN
After you come up with an idea, the first thing you’ll need is a business plan. It’s like the road map for your business – it shows where you are now and the route to take to get to where you want to be. Most financing organizations will require you to show them a business plan before they consider lending you money. Below are some tools to help you with the business plan.
• The SBA offers advice on writing a business plan that stands out and even has business plan templates to help guide you.
• Bplans includes tips on how to write a business plan, as well as hundreds of sample plans, broken down by industry.
• SCORE has business plan templates that walk you through the various categories, available for download.
There are several ways to fund your business. One of the most common ways is through bootstrapping: paying for the upfront costs yourself through savings, grants, loans or borrowing money from friends and family.
• The SBA offers a guide to help you understand the ins and outs of financing a business, including information on loans, grants and funding, as well as SBA’s loan programs that may be available for your business. You can also use their Loan and Grant Search Tool to find government programs you may be eligible to apply for.
• Women’s Funding Network is a group of over 160 organizations that help finance women’s initiatives around the world. Funds are searchable through a membership directory.
• 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.
• A great resource for women in the technology field is Women 2.0, a media company offering content, community and conferences for aspiring and current women innovators in technology. Their mission is to increase the number of female founders of technology startups with inspiration, information and education.
VENTURE CAPITAL FOR WOMEN
Venture Capital is mostly available to businesses that exhibit high growth potential. VCs invest in your business by providing the funding and guidance to help you build or grow. Because of the high risks involved with investing in budding innovative businesses, VCs expect a higher percentage of the profits in 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 with offering “a strong network of women and ethnically diverse” business professionals.
• DBL Investors chooses companies that can deliver top-tier returns and enable social and environmental benefits. They invest in Cleantech companies, information technology, health care, and sustainability-oriented products and services.
• Golden Seeds is an investment firm that supports women entrepreneurs and those who invest in them. With an angel network of 250 men and women and a venture capital group, they invest in early-stage companies. Golden Seeds also provides training in angel and venture investing.
• Isabella Capital focuses on early stage, women-led companies or those operating in the women’s market.
• MedVenture Associates invests in new medical technologies and the entrepreneurs developing them to elevate the next generation of medical practice.
• StarVest Partners invests in sectors like: Software-as-a-Service; Internet Marketing Services; E-Commerce Services; Data and Content Services; Identity and Security Management.
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 are some women-centric accelerators:
• Astia is a global not-for-profit organization that supports women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses. With over 1,000 experts, Astia offers programs for high-growth startups, access to capital and assistance in developing the executive leadership of women.
• NewMe is a Silicon Valley based accelerator that focuses on under-represented minorities in the technology industry. Eight minority start-up founders are admitted every cycle to receive mentorship and assistance from tech entrepreneurs.
• Springboard Enterprises is a 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 Innovate Mobile (WIM) is a startup accelerator and mentorship-driven program designed for women-founded companies in mobile technology.
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 micro finance 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 their standard of living for their families and their 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.
• 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.
Crowdfunding leverages the power of the collective group to raise funds for campaigns. In addition to raising money, entrepreneurs are making use of these platforms by discovering their potential market and gathering feedback. Unlike venture capital in which there are usually a few stakeholders, crowdfunding requires a “crowd” of people contributing to the greater fundraising goal. This crowd of investors is usually incentivized by staggered rewards offered by the campaign. Because of its popularity, the Securities Exchange Commission is compiling provisions for crowdfunding. (Read this Forbes article for more detail.) Here are some crowdfunding platforms:
• EquityNet uses a patented business plan software and equity crowdfunding platform. Entrepreneurs can use EquityNet’s unique capabilities to analyze and optimize their business plans before they engage investors.
• Kickstarter is the platform that popularized crowdfunding in the United States. Since its launch in 2009, more than 4 million people have pledged $595 million in funding for more than 40,000 creative projects.
• IndieGoGo is an international crowdfunding site that empowers ideas and enables people to donate funds easily.
• CrowdRise is crowdfunding for charities, non-profits and personal causes.
• Start Some Good is a crowdfunding platform for non-profits, social entrepreneurs and changemakers seeking to raise funds and grow a community of supporters. They are igniting ideas, channeling investments and scaling impact.
• ClickStartMe is based on the premise that if anyone has an idea, product or service –they should have access to the capital to make it a reality. ClickStartMe also has a team of people to help support and conceptualize your projects.
• WeFunder allows certified investors to not only invest in startups, but also innovation. They are opening up the pool of investors to everyone so that we can all invest in startups we care about.
NETWORKING WITH WOMEN
• 85Broads is a global network of 30,000 trailblazing women. Through 36 Regional Chapters worldwide, the organization is working to develop and strengthen women in leadership positions.
• Meet-Up groups connect women entrepreneurs on a local level.
• National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) is a membership-based organization set 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 non-profit that connects women business owners globally and identifies, educates, registers, and certifies women’s business enterprises that are at least 51% owned, managed, and controlled by one or more women.