Updated: Jan 22, 2020
Rebecca Karp and Kate Speir speaking about women and business.
This year marks the 30th anniversary since Congress passed the Women’s Business Ownership Act, which has helped pave the way for women entrepreneurs in the United States. Since then, women business enterprises (WBEs) have nearly tripled from 4 million to more than 11.6 million, generating more than $1.7 trillion in revenues.
While we’ve made strong progress over the last 30 years, female business owners are still not on equal footing with their male counterparts. In New York City, there are more than 359,000 women entrepreneurs, yet men own 1.5 times the number of businesses, have 3.5 times the number of employees, and generate 4.5 times the amount of revenue. As the owner of Karp Strategies, a small, but growing WBE-certified urban planning consulting firm in New York City, I know that some of the biggest obstacles to success revolve around capital, networks, and mentors.
Small businesses owned by women only receive a fraction of the funding loaned to men. It doesn’t help that women will likely ask for less money, are less likely to know potential investors, and are less inclined to use personal networks to secure funding. We must do more to turn this around.
When women succeed in business—at small and large firms alike—it leads to greater innovation and more jobs—which is good for the nation’s economy, our cities and local communities, and for our clients and partners. That’s why legislation and efforts geared toward helping women entrepreneurs are so important.
Here in New York, it’s encouraging to see the state and city governments take steps to help women learn financial management skills and secure bonding to compete for contracts. Results of such efforts, including the city’s Women Enterprise NYC program are promising, with WBE firms receiving more than half the value of contracts awarded by New York State to minority and women owned businesses in 2017.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Consulate General of Canada’s inaugural Women Mentorship Program held in New York City. The March event brought together WBEs, large firms, and government agencies from Canada and the New York region to talk about collaboration and the importance of mentoring and sponsoring female entrepreneurs so they can push past the glass ceilings that hinder success and growth.
For women wondering how they can do business with larger firms, know that you will have to work incredibly hard to get your foot in the door. So many larger companies already have existing relationships with women business enterprises, so it can be beneficial to partner with other WBE firms that don’t compete with your core business expertise. By partnering, you can highlight the combined breadth of services you offer as you seek project opportunities.
Use every occasion to tell a prospective client what you already know—that as a small WBE you are adaptable and nimble, you are relentless about completing a project on time and on budget, and, unlike big bureaucracies, you can quickly respond to project needs throughout the scope of engagement. Beyond this, highlight your differentiators.
Be sure to leverage associations and organizations that are relevant to your industry and that focus on improving access to professional development, networking, and mentoring, such as the Women’s Transportation Seminar and Professional Women in Construction, which have chapters in New York.
To grow your company, cultivate contacts. Call or send an email to meet for coffee, ask friends and associates to make introductions, sign up for local industry publications, and attend local networking events. Large partner firms can be of tremendous value by including WBEs in industry meet ups, agreeing to quarterly check-in calls, apprising of upcoming opportunities, and sharing honest feedback about performance on a project. At Karp Strategies, we’ve learned so much about our strengths through relationships with our partner firms including Capalino+Company and Hatch.
Build on your partner relationships, and, if you’ve benefitted from mentoring, pass on the wealth of information that is shared with you. I’ve learned a lot from female mentors about negotiating, business development, and project management and I am grateful for their encouragement to take risks and listen to my inner voice. There’s much we can accomplish together - and I look forward to the achievements women entrepreneurs will make over the next 30 years.
Rebecca Karp is Founder and CEO of Karp Strategies, an urban planning consulting firm based in New York City. Since launching the firm in 2015, she has grown her WBE-certified company into one of the leading women-owned urban planning businesses in New York City.