Closing the funding gap for women entrepreneurs

Globally, women experience many barriers to equal economic participation. The Establishing a baseline for lending to women-owned SMEs 2013 report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) points to low levels of access to finance for women entrepreneurs with 15-25 percent of loans issued to women across 34 IFC client financial institutions in 25 countries. This presents a significant stumbling block to economic growth for the country.

The 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS aims to build on the entrepreneurial successes celebrated for the last 30 years by encouraging and rewarding women making waves in their communities through business. Over the last five years, for example, we have seen 35 female entrepreneurs named finalists in the annual competition which accounts for 47 percent of all finalists, and 13 named winners accounting for 43 percent of all winners.

While we remain encouraged by the increasing number of female entrepreneurs entering the competition – we need to uncover and celebrate many more women who, to a large extent, remain unsung heroes of their communities through such business competitions.

According to the African Development Bank, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the financing gap for women is estimated at over $20 billion. This amount is made up by gender-specific challenges that women face, including lower access to quality business training and education, lesser funding opportunities for women-owned small businesses, and cultural beliefs discouraging women from participating in business.

Since our economic growth as a country largely depends on the success of entrepreneurship – it is crucial to ensure that both male and female, existing and aspiring, entrepreneurs have equal opportunities when it comes to accessing funding, training and business opportunities.

These are a few practical steps women can take to proactively close the finance gap for themselves and increase their access to growth opportunities:

Invest in knowing your industry

One of the general rules of thumb when it comes to entrepreneurship is to know more than what directly impacts your own business. It is important for entrepreneurs to be aware of the economic macro and micro environments affecting their businesses, and also the political and legislative landscape within which they operate. For women especially, it is also key to know the points of exclusion of a particular industry, if any. You have to be aware of the general biases and stereotypes in your industry in order to disrupt them.

Collaborate with other women

The old adage of ‘two heads are better than one’ is a powerful mantra for women in business to remember. A group of women-owned organisations standing together and calling for equal funding and business opportunities stands to make a bigger difference than any one organisation doing this work in silo. The work done by organisations and chambers such as the Businesswomen’s Association is therefore important in facilitating this collaboration and women entrepreneurs are advised to participate in similar organisations.

Look for opportunities with like-minded funders

There are many organisations that provide funding and who are passionate about creating equal opportunities for all – some of whom have funds specifically aimed at assisting female entrepreneurs. It is important to find out about these financiers and align your business finance applications with their criteria.

We hope to see the biggest number of female entrants in this year’s competition since our launch in 1988. We must continue to encourage women to embrace entrepreneurship and disrupt staid industries and to participate in competitions that highlight their success.

If you haven’t entered yet, be sure to visit the entry form page, and complete the entry form before 31 May 2018.