One of the #1 things we are asked about at TARRA is “how do I get funding for my woman-owned business” or “what types of funding are available for my woman-owned business”?
It can be frustrating to hear that there is no straightforward answer. Every business case is different. Every business founder has a different set of assets. No two business models are the same, which means that every woman-owned business has multiple funding paths they can take.
While there are hundreds of options, there is one option that I want to focus on for a moment to clear up a few common misunderstandings.
The Myth of Venture Capital
Venture capital is a phrase you hear tossed around a lot today in startup circles and the media. It seems simple enough–have a business idea, pitch it to potential Venture Capital investors with deep pockets and voila you have a path to millions of dollars to build your app.
However, venture capital funding is NOT the right path for the vast majority of small businesses and startups. VC funding is typically reserved for high-growth businesses that are projected to make tens of millions of dollars (or more) in revenue in a 5-10 year period. VC’s rarely make investments in companies that aren’t already making a few million a year in gross revenue. It’s even more rare for them to invest in a company from a founder that doesn’t have a proven track record of founding and selling companies.
In a very short summary, unless you have a business already pulling in $2-$10 million a year in revenue with projections to make $100 million in the next few years, remove “venture capital” from your list of funding sources and look below for other more accessible means to get funding for your woman-owned business.
Yes, I said it. The dreaded word “bootstrap”. This is when you self-fund your dream with savings or through your salary at your full-time job while developing your business “on the side”. Bootstrapping isn’t sexy. It requires a lot of personal and professional sacrifice–less eating out, less going out, less time for family and friends, creative use of limited dollars, etc. The key to bootstrapping is to create some boundaries and guardrails so you don’t spend your life savings on something that won’t be profitable. Do your research. Create a realistic operating budget and cash flow projections. Understand the timeline to achieve a minimum viable product. Know what your limit is…don’t spend past it. In the great words of Kenny Rogers, “you have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”
Friends & Family
Friends and family loans and investments are a great way to get some initial funding for your business, but buyer beware. This isn’t a free for all. Treat your friends and family raise the same as you would any investor. Develop an investor agreement so there is legal protection for both you and them in the case of bankruptcy or failure to launch. Ensure you have a realistic forecast and cash flow projections. Develop a timeline for how and when they will be paid back. Provide them with regular reports and updates on product development and cash flow. The last thing you want to do is create a rift between you and family or friends due to your lack of planning.
Angel investors are typically wealthy private investors who focus on financing small business or startup ventures in exchange for equity. Angel investors don’t use a fund like venture capitalists, they use their own dollars. There are a lot of benefits to working with angel investors–motivated to see you succeed, less focused on 10x and 20x returns, more likely to invest in businesses with modest growth potential, seed stage vs. later stage. However, because their personal capital is on the line, they often want a substantial amount of equity–10-50%.
Microloans are a great opportunity to get a small injection of cash–between $5 and $50K–into your business once you are up and running. There are multiple options available from a variety of loan programs and each one has a different set of requirements so do your research to understand what amount you need, what you will use it for and how that money will be invested to create returns that can help you pay the loan back. Microloans can be used for a variety of purposes–working capital, inventory purchases, supplies, repairs, machinery and equipment purchases and more. This type of funding is often available through nonprofit, community-based organizations like Rocky Mountain Microfinance Institute, The Colorado Enterprise Fund, and CEDS.
Small Business Administration Loans
The SBA is an excellent resource for larger loans, but there is a big catch. You must own larger assets–cars, homes, land, real estate, etc.—to provide backing for the loan. There is considerable risk in an SBA loan. If you default or go bankrupt, they will repossess your assets–i.e. your house–to pay the loan back.
Similar to venture capital, there are a lot of misunderstandings about the use of bank loans to fund a woman-owned business. To me, banks are one of the last options for a fledgling startup because the debt is expensive, and it must be backed by assets–personal or business. Banks are in the business of making the least risky loans possible (thank goodness or we wouldn’t put our life savings in them). A small business is one of riskiest bets on the market. Banks are looking for businesses that either have a multi-year track record of solid growth and net profit or are backed with saleable assets like real estate, the personal wealth of the owner, or product inventory that can be easily sold in the case of bankruptcy.
Crowdfunding has grown up a lot since the original Kickstarter and Indiegogo days. At its most basic, it is the use of small amounts of capital from large numbers of people to finance a new business venture. The advantage of this type of funding is that you can gain access to a large and diverse group of investors/supporters. It’s a way to gain followers and supporters who might not otherwise know about your product. And while the concept seems straightforward, the key to crowdfunding is the term “crowd”. Experts in this space will tell you that crowdfunding is difficult if you don’t already have an established following or a way to reach hundreds if not thousands of individuals who can buy into what you are selling. Also note, crowdfunding comes with a lot of rules and restrictions, read the fine print carefully and plan your campaign thoroughly.
While the list above is not exhaustive, it’s a basic foundation to help you better understand how to get funding for your woman-owned business and the different types of funding available for women-owned businesses. No two businesses are the same and the TARRA team recommends conducting deep research to better understand what will be best for your industry, vertical and business model.