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Bio
Barbara Kasoff, 70
Hometown: San Francisco
Education: Bachelor of arts, Framingham State University in Massachusetts
Career: Owned and managed companies including messaging service Voice-Tel of Michigan and Voice-Tel of Australia and Voice Response Corp., a provider of voice messaging and call center services.
Family: Husband, Marvin, three sons, seven grandchildren
Hobbies: Reads mysteries, swims
Last book read: “The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson” by Robert A. Caro
Associated Press
Former business owner Barbara Kasoff founded and leads Women Impacting Public Policy, based in San Francisco.

Rise up, female business owners

Advocate finds voice lobbying for change

– Barbara Kasoff has a message for female business owners: If you don’t like the way government regulations affect your business, stop whining and get involved.

The founder of Women Impacting Public Policy, a group that lobbies lawmakers on behalf of women-owned small businesses, isn’t shy about telling women they need to take charge if they want their businesses to succeed – especially when it comes to government policy.

“You, the woman business owner, need to get involved,” Kasoff says.

Female business owners are a growing force in the U.S. There were more than 8.3 million female-owned businesses in the country as of 2012, up 54 percent from 1997, according to a study commissioned by American Express.

The most recent census figures available on businesses show that there were 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the country in 2007. That was nearly one-third of all non-farm businesses in the U.S.

“We are part of all the discussions,” Kasoff says. “No longer are we in a situation of being told what will happen. We’re part of the team.”

WIPP has more than 1 million members across the country including those in 68 affiliated advocacy groups. Kasoff is particularly proud of WIPP’s success in government contracting issues.

The group lobbied for the Women Owned Small Business program, which took effect in 2011, under which the government targets granting 5 percent of eligible federal contracts, or about $20 billion, to companies owned by women.

Kasoff had already been a business owner when she founded WIPP in 2001. She had owned 11 Voice-Tel franchises, which supplied voice messaging services, in Michigan and also owned Voice Response Corp., which provided call center services as well as voice messaging. She sold the businesses by 1999 and continued working for Voice Response until 2002.

Even with her success, Kasoff had questions about what the government could do to help her as a female business owner. And she didn’t feel her opinions were being heard in Washington.

“I was a business owner, and I didn’t see that I had a voice,” she says. “I looked around and I didn’t see that anyone could help me.”

So she did what she now urges other businesswomen to do – she got involved.

Kasoff spoke recently with The Associated Press about the issues that female business owners face. Here are excerpts of the interview, edited for clarity and brevity:

Q. What led you to found WIPP?

A. As a business owner, I networked, I did all the things that business owners do – be grouchy, complain. How am I going to get the answers? How do some people get the government contracts? How come some business owners are always in the front pages of the newspaper? Who’s representing me as a woman business owner?

That’s when I jumped in, got a group of people together, said, this is my idea, and they said, we’ll support you. I surprisingly got bought out (of my business), and so I started doing this full-time.

Q. What challenges do you still face in getting more contracts for female-owned businesses?

A. The challenges are to make sure that the congressional goal of 5 percent (of federal contracts being set aside) for women business owners is met. In 2011, only 3.98 percent of our government contracts were awarded to women business owners.

It’s been a primary challenge to build awareness and enthusiasm among women owners for the opportunity that’s out there so we can get them to compete successfully. We’ve got to work together, the public sector, the private sector. It means partnerships with the Small Business Administration, with the SBA district and regional offices and its Women’s Business Centers.

Q. What has stood in the way of women getting more government contracts?

A. Women business owners did not recognize the revenue opportunities. They weren’t educated (about them). They didn’t have the tools and resources from the public and private sector. Nobody was focused on it, nobody said, ‘here’s a gap and we have to meet it.’

We need to smooth out the legislative kinks and barriers that still exist, make sure we’re working together with the SBA, to give women training, to get women registered on SAM (Systems for Award Management, the federal contract awards database) so that they can take advantage of the opportunity.

Q. Congress created the 5 percent goal for contracts for women-owned businesses in 1994. It’s never been met. Why has it taken so long for women to win more contracts?

A. Government is a big ship to turn. It takes time. Change does not come overnight. Some of the more positive things I see are the government’s recognition and ability to bring together partners like WIPP or American Express Open and other corporate entities. When you build together these public and private sector partnerships, you’re going to increase the opportunities.

I think it’s been slow. It’s been just a year in terms of the WOSB program – it seems like forever. We’re treading water; we’re not seeing the gains. They’ve resolved some legislative issues like the cap (on the size of contracts for women-owned businesses), but also they’re putting together the partnerships and starting to scale the effort.

We’re willing go to out on a limb and believe that by the end of 2014, we’re going to hit that 5 percent. And I want to exceed that 5 percent.

Q. Is it harder for women business owners to get a loan?

A. Access to capital is tight for all small business owners, whether male or female. But at this point, women have to work harder in order to be successful. You don’t hear the stories you used to hear as much now – like, “I have to bring my husband in to get a loan.” But some of it is still here, and some of it frankly has to do with education and preparation by women owners (before they apply for a loan).

But as women business owners are becoming more mature business owners, they are ramping up their ability to have the right infrastructure in order to successfully get loans.

Q. What industries are seeing the most growth in women-owned small businesses?

A. We have an awful lot of women in information technology and in services like staffing. And we’re building our presence in other nontraditional areas that have been difficult for us. We’re getting headway in construction. I have members in the missile defense area.

But in some manufacturing, like weapons of war, it might be more difficult. We don’t have the numbers or the years of experience there.

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