Credit: Anthony Delanoix, StockSnap
Credit: Anthony Delanoix, StockSnap

As the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council recently noted, entrepreneurship has barely merited a mention from Presidential candidates in a dramatic election cycle dominated by other economic issues. And that’s a shame, since government initiatives to foster business ownership could offer many Americans pathways to economic security.

Luckily, more localized movers and shakers are getting things accomplished. Indeed, bustling cities like New York are showing that helping startups is good for their economies, and especially beneficial for the women who reside in them — if a recent report from the Center for an Urban Future called “Breaking Through” is any guide.

The center’s findings show that female entrepreneurship is booming in New York City. Its researchers discovered that women’s business ownership grew by 65 percent between 2002 and 2012, and those new ventures added about 56,000 jobs and $3 billion in pay to the local economy. New York ended 2012 with a total of 413,899 women-owned firms, more than double its nearest competitor, Los Angeles, which had 192,358, the report also states.

Much of New York’s success has been due to generous startup resources that the city provides, including incubators in every borough. Offerings such as the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Women Entrepreneurs NYC exemplify the sort of localized programming a government can create for its female entrepreneurs.

It helps, too, that the city’s women are embracing business ownership. That’s at least in part because starting up can be a better option than working for “the man.”

“We have women entrepreneurs who are starting businesses as opposed to taking low-paying jobs that aren’t very flexible and don’t have many benefits” says Amy Parker, who until recently was the communications and operations associate for the center. “After the Great Recession, I heard many stories of women who took to entrepreneurship as opposed to trying to find jobs, all in the industries they had been working in.”

That motivation, combined with support from the city itself, seems to be a winning mix for many female entrepreneurs in New York. Even so, researchers identified significant opportunities to improve the city’s entrepreneurial infrastructure. An especially glaring example? About 91 percent of women-owned firms in New York don’t have any employees, the report states.

Women’s businesses might grow larger with more access to those helpful city resources. The problem, Alicia Robb, a senior fellow with the Kauffman Foundation, points out, is that engaging some female entrepreneurs can be difficult. “Being in a major city can be an advantage because they are often rich with resources, both human and financial,” she says. “Yet, you still need to know where to find them.”

“An active community is key” to getting the word out, she says, adding that localized meetup groups, angel organizations, university-backed offerings and accelerator programs are all good places to start.

And to the aim of creating that community, Parker urges neighborhood organizations and advocacy groups to partner up. “We can’t presume [women are] just going to find these programs through traditional channels,” she says.

As it is around the world, access to capital is also an ongoing issue for women business owners in New York — and a prime example of how policy prescriptions and organizational interventions could lead to positive change.

“Even in our tech sector, which is known for having women-led startups, women aren’t getting access to the same venture capital. And that trickles down to every industry,” Parker says. “Women have had lots of trouble getting the capital they need to get started. We need more micro-lending and mentorship programs.”

Still, Parker is optimistic, encouraged by the positive trends the center found. “It’s exciting how inventive women have been already, and research says there’s so much room to grow.”