In many ways, things are looking up for women who want to start a business.
Nationally, according to estimates by American Express OPEN, the number of women-owned businesses has grown from 6,489,483 in 1997, to 9,087,200 in 2014 – an increase of 67.8 percent. Employment at women-owned companies has grown by 11 percent, and sales have grown by 72.3 percent.
In Indiana, the good news in sales growth is even better – 80.3 percent in the last 20 years.
But despite that propitious figure, The Journal Gazette’s Sherry Slater reported Sunday, the number of women-owned businesses in the state has grown less than half as much as the national average during the same period – just 32.5 percent. That puts Indiana at 45th in the country.
There are two ways to look at those Indiana figures. On the one hand, women-owned businesses in this state appear to be unusually healthy. On the other, there appear to be factors at work in Indiana that are holding back prospective women entrepreneurs.
What these are, and how they can be mitigated, are questions that need to be seriously pondered by those who look for ways to grow the state’s economy and create jobs. (The OPEN study also estimates that jobs at women-owned businesses in the state increased by 21.3 percent, almost double the national increase.)
Billie Dragoo, chairwoman of the National Association of Women Business Owners, told Slater that venture capital investment in women-owned businesses, though generally low, is nonexistent in Indiana. But Dragoo said the state is offering lots of opportunities to women for advice and connections. And, she singled out Fort Wayne and Mayor Tom Henry for special praise.
Indeed, Mary Tyndall, the city’s Community Development spokeswomen, said Henry has encouraged the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services to start an outreach effort to help those who qualify become certified as a woman- or minority-owned business.
Certification would in turn make it possible for such businesses to apply for special consideration for city or state contracts. A search is under way for an individual or firm to head that effort.
There are, in addition, several local entities that offer help to women who want to start or grow a business, including the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, the Small Business Development Center, the Women’s Bureau, the Community Development Corporation of Northeast Indiana and Greater Fort Wayne Inc.
A new way for enterprising women to get a business off the ground is crowd funding – raising venture capital directly from people through the Web. A law signed last week by Gov. Mike Pence makes it easier for entrepreneurs and investors to pursue this route.
Women, it appears, are the Indiana economy’s greatest underused resource. Those who want to start businesses should try to ignore that 45th ranking and focus on the good news about the growth of sales in the state and the opportunities to get help that exist in Fort Wayne.