Even it up Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2009

You’ve come a long way! This is especially true for women who own their own business in the United States. Statistics show that the number of businesses owned by women has risen dramatically over the years as economic resources and education have become more readily available.

According to the National Association for Women Business Owners’ Web site, 10.1 million firms were owned by women (50 percent), they employed 13 million people and generated $1.5 trillion in sales in 2008. Three-quarters of all women-owned businesses were majority-owned (51 percent or higher), totaling 7.2 million firms with 7.3 million employees and $1.1 trillion in sales.

“I’ve been in the banking industry for 20 years, and I’ve been involved with NAWBO for seven, and I’ve seen the effect it has had on women business owners in the Houston area,” says Jo Ann Miller, vice president and senior relationship manager for Wells Fargo Bank in Houston.

Smart Business asked Miller how NAWBO has helped women across the country and if there are more opportunities for women to own their own businesses in today’s market.

What is NAWBO?

NAWBO was formed in 1975 by 12 businesswomen who lived and worked in the Washington, D.C., area. Their ultimate goal was to gather and share information and create an atmosphere of a professional community in an effort to strengthen their entrepreneurial skills. At that time, there wasn’t a group dedicated to helping female business owners. Today, there are branches in many major markets that women can turn to when they need assistance.

What are some of NAWBO’s accomplishments over the last 10 years?

Some of the key factors include the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act (HB 5050) during the Reagan administration. On the financial side, in 1996 NAWBO created a partnership with the Small Business Administration to better identify the needs of women entrepreneurs. The SBA helped develop a fact sheet so its staff could better understand the differences between women-owned businesses versus male-owned businesses, such as the limited availability women had to financing. NAWBO also created strategic alliances with corporate sponsors eager to work with businesses owned by women.

In 2005, immediately following Hurricane Katrina, NAWBO formed a women’s business disaster relief project that had a Web site up and running within 72 hours of the storm. The Web site raised $40,000 over a two-week period in individual contributions, all of which was donated to women business owners who had been affected by the disaster.

Do you need to own a business to receive help from NAWBO?

I am not a female business owner but I work for a corporation that supports them. There are a number of corporate sponsors who offer a great way for women business owners to learn what resources are available to them. Collaboration like that can help cut through the red tape and make the resources available in a more efficient manner.

Is it getting easier for women to own their own businesses?

I would like to think it’s becoming more balanced and the numbers on the NAWBO Web site seem to reflect that fact. Just from working with NAWBO over the last seven years, I have observed the diversity of the businesses that women have created, especially those competing in male-dominated industries. You’re not just seeing your typical administrative professions; women are more involved in commercial areas, such as real estate, trucking, licensing and newspapers. There are so many industries where women didn’t have a voice and now they are competing one-on-one in the field. The strategic alliances women are forming give them access to the capital and education they need.

Financial institutions today see women-owned businesses as a viable unit and one it wants to do business with, so I am reaching out to them and letting them know that as a bank we are serious about doing business with them and want to provide them with the same amount of opportunities as we offer to men.

What is the Trailblazers Award?

In 2002, NAWBO and Wells Fargo established the award to honor and celebrate the nation’s leading women business owners. Each year three women-owned businesses are selected nationwide on the criteria of their business performance, innovation, growth and personal service to the community. Each winner receives a $5,000 cash grant, nationwide recognition and will be honored at the annual NAWBO conference.

JO ANN MILLER is vice president and senior relationship manager for Wells Fargo Bank. Reach her at joann.miller@wellsfargo.com or (281) 644-3714.