When you consider the statistics of women-owned businesses, the numbers are astounding. Women own 38% of all businesses in the U.S., or 9.1 million companies, and employ about 27 million people. And more than 33% of the 3.25 million firms owned by minorities in the U.S. are owned by women.
Yet, despite the impressive gains with regard to women and entrepreneurship, the picture is not as bright when it comes to the issue of financing. Access to credit remains the No. 1 issue raised by most self-employed and entrepreneurial women-no matter what their economic circumstances. Many women fall in between the criteria of eligibility for some micro-lending programs and the credit-scoring systems used by conventional financial institutions. Women continue to have less access to financing for their businesses than male business owners, and women of color face even greater difficulties in gaining access to capital.
In light of this, the timing couldn’t be better for Count-Me-In for Women’s Economic Independence, a new nonprofit organization aimed at raising capital to be loaned exclusively to women. The program is intended to cross the boundaries of race, religion, economic standing and political background.
“There is wide recognition among women and people of color being left out of or excluded from networks and opportunities to get credit, capital and equity to finance their businesses,” says Nell Merlino, co-founder and CEO of Count-Me-In. “This is an innovative way to collect and distribute funding and [we are developing] a new approach to credit scoring that is more equitable to women of all races.”
Through the use of the organization’s Website (www.count-me-in.org) and a media blitz, millions of women (and men and children) across the U.S. will be asked to contribute a minimum of $5 to Count-Me-In to create a multimillion-dollar national fund for women. The money will be redistributed in the form of small business loans and scholarships of from $500 to $10,000 for business training and technical assistance. Key corporate contributors already include the American Express Foundation, BP Amoco Corp. and Reebok International.
To learn how you can participate or donate funds, check out www .count-me-in.org, call 877-542-6445 or write Count-Me-In, P.O. Box 96064, Washington, D.C. 20090.