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In The Red? These Female-Focused Grants Are Sure To Boost Your Startup

Finance

If you're looking for a boost for your business, here's some good news: you may be eligible for a special selection of grants tailored to empower female entrepreneurs. These grants are highly competitive and require you to submit an application, but if you aspire to be the next leader among women in business, they offer a unique opportunity to jump-start your next venture.


Grants are funding opportunities you earn based on the merit of your business venture and the challenges you'll need to overcome to make your business successful. Almost every grant program seeks businesses that will significantly contribute to social or environmental causes. If you don't think your business will fit that criteria, you might be a better candidate for a private loan—this way, your business still gets the funding it needs.

Women are a minority among entrepreneurs, and these grants seek to level the playing field and inspire the next generation of leaders. Your business could change the world—why not let it flourish with federal, state, or private grant opportunities?

1. Federal Grant Programs

The federal government offers a host of grant opportunities for non-profits, and these grants usually come in the form of funding for state programs and initiatives. Grants.gov is a broad web portal that connects business leaders to seed funding opportunities, and there's a section dedicated specifically to small-business grants. The database is extensive, but searching for specific keywords can help you find an opportunity that suits your business venture perfectly, increasing your application's chances of success.

2. Women's Business Centers (WBCs)

The Small Business Administration (SBA) sponsors over 100 women's business centers across the US. These educational organizations are tailored specifically to the challenges women entrepreneurs face. Many of these grants prioritize women who are economically or socially disadvantaged, helping them overcome any obstacle to their businesses' success. Even when grant funding is unavailable, these centers are amazing resources for training and counseling to bring ideas to life.

3. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)

Small Business Development Centers are much more common than WBCs; almost all states have several SBDC offices. These offices can be equally helpful in tracking down grant programs in your area and are a gold mine of useful information, expertise, and local knowledge. You can tap into this network to give your small business a big advantage, even if you don't receive funding directly.

4. Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR)

If your business plan is to innovate in your field, you could seek seed funding from the SBIR/STTR network. This program supports technological and scientific innovation that spurs the American economy.

And it explicitly seeks to sponsor female entrepreneurship—that ideal is right in the organization's mission statement. If your business venture is based in science, research, or technology, these grants are a perfect match.

5. InnovateHER Challenge 2017

The SBA-backed InnovateHER challenge is entering its third year and offers over $70,000 in funding for products and services that empower women and families everywhere. This grant is a true competition, and finalists for 2017 have already been chosen. You can put your business idea on the table for this challenge by applying to a host organization in your local area. Host organizations submit their nominees to the national board for review, and the competition is a great way to network with organizations that put women entrepreneurs first.

6. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant

Many private businesses give back to their community in the form of grants and seed funding. As one of the premier privately funded business grants in America that specifically seeks to empower women, the Eileen Fisher grant program is highly competitive, but businesses with the right combination of female leadership and a focus on environmental and social change can receive an award of $100,000.

7. Amber Grants for Women

For smaller businesses and first-time ventures, Amber Grants for Women offers a monthly award designed to bring new ideas to life. Created to honor a young entrepreneur who passed away in 1998, this long-standing program has provided thousands of dollars in funding to women all over the United States. The program has backed everything from outdoor paddle board fitness classes to STEM curriculum for homeschooling. If your idea trends towards outside-the-box thinking, this is the grant for you.

What other opportunities have you found in your local network? Share in the comments below.

7min read
Culture

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.


A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.