Startup Week 2017: Lots of Progress, More to Come From Women Entrepreneurs

  • Heather Kelly of Heather's Choice at Launch Alaska's Demo Day 2016. (Photo courtesy Launch Alaska)

Entrepreneurs are tenacious problem solvers and there are increasing numbers of women going down this self-starting path.

Women entrepreneurs are doing everything from solving technical problems while running large organizations to working from home while raising children or operating side hustles alongside their regular careers.

Alaskan women business owners are your friends, family, and business associates and are located in shops, farmers markets, boats, and executive suites throughout the state. Alyssa London’s business, Culture Story, is a great example of the positive trends in Alaskan small business ownership.

Alyssa founded Culture Story in 2014 as a means to promote cultural awareness through gift giving. The objects she has created provide a way to talk about identity and learn about other cultures. Alyssa decided she could add to the mix of available products marketing Alaska Native art and culture and to do so in a way that benefits the people being represented.

Her mission is to help people have a greater understanding and appreciation for other cultures, and to give back to the communities in which she highlights.

Businesses owned and operated by women exist throughout the Alaskan economy. They run construction firms, manufacture products, sell research and technical services, and operate food trucks and run daycares. And their numbers are growing, as shown by the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report by American Express OPEN.

Despite the slowing economy, the number of Alaskan women-owned businesses increased by 22 percent from 2007 through 2016. Currently just about a quarter, 25.9 percent, of Alaskan businesses are women-owned. Nationally the trends are even higher; women are now the majority owners of 38 percent of the country’s businesses.

During this same period, the number of women owned firms increased by 45 percent compared to a 9 percent increase among all businesses. This ends up being five times more than the national average. Because their numbers have doubled, improvement in number of businesses run by minority women are even more impressive.

In Alaska it is easy to point to recent examples like Heather’s Choice, Bambino’s Baby Food, and Pandere Shoes. In its first year, the local business incubator, Launch Alaska, included two women-led teams out of a total of five and the current cohort has one women-led startup out of a total of four.

Additionally, almost half of the participants are women. Despite these positive developments, it is important to highlight remaining challenges. As recent scandals in Silicon Valley illustrate, business is often still a man’s world. When it comes to venture capital funding, women receive only 7 percent of available of angel investments.

Alyssa London making Native giftboxes for her business Culture Story.

Not only do they get less venture capital, a recent report by Fundera, a banking brokerage firm, shows women have less access to standard capital funding.

Although women are approved for credit at roughly the same level as men are, 32 percent versus 35 percent, systematically they are shortchanged. When funded, women, “get shorter terms, smaller loan sizes, and the most expensive interest rates,” as shown by the Fundera State of Small Business Lending report.

Lower credit scores based on lower incomes and the sectors they enter — retail and services — account for some of this discrepancy, but societal norms and poorer negotiation skills also play a factor.

With less economic clout, lower numbers of growth-oriented businesses, and poorer negotiation skills, the end result is fewer loans, at higher rates, and at worse terms. This is unfortunate because access to capital is key for women who want to successfully start and grow their companies.

Recognizing these factors allows women and their advisors to find ways to improve their odds. Recent studies have shown when angel investing groups include women investors, they are more able to identify with women-owned businesses and the problems they are trying to solve.

Unsurprisingly, male angel investors tend to fund businesses and businesses owners they can identify with. The University of New Hampshire’s survey of angel investment groups shows, as one might suspect, angel groups with a higher representation of women tend to attract and consider a higher percentage of women-owned firms.

Making sure women with decision-making authority are involved along the funding pipeline will improve women’s chances of gaining access to capital and correct some of the funding biases.

Nationally Astia and the Women's Business Network are advancing women’s business interests. In Alaska networking groups like the Anchorage-based Women Entrepreneurs of Alaska and the Anchorage Athena Society provide opportunities to support one another, recognize achievements, and collaborate.

In order to successfully launch their companies, both women and men need to know about existing available resources like A Million Cups events hosted in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Anchorage as well as the statewide services provided by the Alaska Small Business Development Center.

These, and other programs, exist to support women’s business efforts and provide tools, resources, and mentors for future women, like Alyssa, who are inspired to solve a problem, offer a service, or create a new product.

Alaska Startup Week brings entrepreneurs, local leaders, and friends together during 10 days of events and celebration to build momentum and opportunity around our state’s unique entrepreneurial identity. Startup Week is a focal point of the Innovate Alaska (2.0) effort to diversify Alaska’s economic base. For more information and a full list of 2017 events, visit alaska.startupweek.co.

Jacqueline Summers works as a program specialist with the University of Alaska Anchorage Business Enterprise Institute and also owns Paxaro Solutions, a startup consultation business. She has unbelievable amounts of moxie and supports women’s businesses whenever she can.

Alyssa London is a motivational speaker and entrepreneur. She founded Culture Story in 2014 to promote cultural awareness and inclusion, and is a champion of female entrepreneurship. Alyssa is Miss Alaska USA 2017 and was a top ten finalist at Miss USA 2017.

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Updated: 
07/24/2017 - 3:05pm

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