Cantwell Introduces Bill to Reauthorize Women’s Business Center Program

Increased grant amount of up to $250,000 to grow women-owned small businesses, boost U.S. economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business Committee, Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), in introducing legislation to help women small business owners start and grow their businesses. The Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2015 would reauthorize and increase authorized funding for the Women’s Business Center Program to improve business training and counseling opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

“Last year, as Chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, I took a hard look at actions necessary to propel women’s entrepreneurship forward. Women entrepreneurs have created more 10 million small businesses and more than 23 million jobs yet still face problems such as access to capital – we must to take additional steps,” said Senator Cantwell. “Today’s legislation will help break the glass ceiling women entrepreneurs face in this country by ensuring the next generation of women small business owners can get the training and counseling they need to turn their ideas into realities”

The Women’s Small Business Act of 2015 authorizes the Office of Women’s Small Business Ownership to grant up to $250,000 per women’s business center (WBC) in order to address the many barriers woman business owners and entrepreneurs face. The much needed and increased grant amounts brings the authorization levels up to speed with other Small Business Administration (SBA) programs. Despite being the fastest growing sector of business, women-owned businesses have still vast inherent potential for growth.

In addition, the Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2015 is designed to remove traditional barriers to women small business owners’ training. It simplifies the processes for program application and grants, reduces the paperwork burden on small-business owners, and increases the transparency through enhanced peer accreditation.

More women today own businesses that ever before, yet they only account for only 4% of all commercial loan dollars, 17% of SBA loans and 4.2% of venture capital. Programs like WBC are critical to the success of women-owned enterprises in establishing self-sufficiency, participation in international markets and identifying gaps where participation could be increased.

“We are excited that Senators Cantwell, Vitter and Shaheen are introducing legislation that has been a long time in coming.  The Women’s Business Centers (WBC) program has been on the frontlines of training, counseling and providing a pathway to capital for women since its inception.  Demand for WBC’s services continues to grow as a result of the explosion of women entrepreneurs, which now total 10 million.  While the current network of WBCs provide tremendous support to women who want to start and grow businesses, we know that they are just scratching the surface of the assistance needed.  This important legislation provides greater resources to WBCs to reach more women, while making the program’s grant process more efficient,” Antonella Pianalto, President and CEO of the Association of Women’s Business Centers

“Since our inception in 2013, the Washington Center for Women in Business has coached and supported over 400 women entrepreneurs, to help them start, grow or scale up their companies.  We’ve also provided training and business skills development to over 1000 entrepreneurs in the same time frame.  Our center would not exist without the partnership of the SBA.  Even so, our center serves 34 of the 39 counties in Washington state, and two staff people can only do so much, although they do an extraordinary job and we get rave reviews!  This legislation will empower US to empower far more entrepreneurs from all over our state, and to help them grow their businesses and create more jobs,” said Liz Jamieson, Washington Center for Women in Business.

“Women’s business centers are an invaluable resource to our membership and women entrepreneurs generally. This legislation gives these incredible programs the tools needed to keep the women’s economic engine going. WIPP fully supports the bill, and is grateful to Chair Vitter, Ranking Member Shaheen, and Senator Cantwell for their leadership," said Kristie Arslan, Executive Director of Women Impacting Public Policy.

Last year, Senator Cantwell, as chair of the Senate Small Business Committee, issued the 21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship report on the challenges and actions needed to women’s entrepreneurial success and entryway into the market. Following last year’s report, Cantwell introduced legislation to address three components found necessary to unlock the success of female-owned businesses – increasing access to federal contracts, increasing access to capital, and improving the training and counseling programs that support them. 

Women's Business Centers (WBCs) are a national network of over 100 educational centers throughout the United States and its territories, which are designed to assist potential women in starting and growing small businesses. WBCs seek to equalize access to resources for women entrepreneurs, who still face unique impediments in the business world.