Women in Small Business: An Interview with Katie Arslan

The Credit Junction had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Kristie Arslan, the Executive Director of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). See her thoughts on the women's small business sector, access to capital, and entrepreneurship, below!

1.    How would you describe the small business landscape for women in America today?

Women business owners are growing exponentially year over year. The U.S. Census shared with us some great news this year, announcing that there are now approximately 9.9 million women business owners across the United States. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of women-owned firms increased at a rate 2.5 times the national average, with women launching approximately 1,100 new businesses every single day.  Not only have they grown in numbers, but also in revenues, generating $1.4 trillion in receipts. Even more impressive is the fact that the number of minority women who are starting businesses has skyrocketed, increasing 67% since 2002. We are happy to see that entrepreneurship is becoming a pathway towards economic independence for women across the country. 

2.    What role does WIPP play in supporting women owned small businesses?

Women Impacting Public Policy is a non-profit membership association. Our members are women business owners. We focus on three key offerings.

First and foremost, WIPP is a tireless advocate for women business owners. We champion women in business every day. We focus on making sure that there is a favorable economic and regulatory climate for women, so that they can succeed at starting and growing their businesses. We do all that we can to ensure that women have a voice in the public policy process.

Second, we focus on business education relating to growth strategies for women-owned businesses. Key program areas are access to the federal marketplace through government contracting, access to capital and credit, and exporting opportunities. Most businesses currently owned by women are lower revenue. We want to help women business owners take their business to the next level. We understand that some business owners are not looking to be the next Amazon or Starbucks, but we want to help women entrepreneurs boost their bottom line.  And if you want to go in that direction, we will certainly help you!

Finally, we look at propelling women business owners into leadership positions. We provide training and pathways for women in business to get involved in leadership roles across their communities, industries or even the greater political stage. WIPP helps you leverage the skills that you have learned in running your business to become a leader outside of your business.

3.    What are the biggest challenges and threats that women business owners face? 

The first I would name is access to capital. This is just a critical issue for women business owners. Based on recent data, women receive only 16 percent of conventional small business loans. This amounts to 4.4 percent of the total dollar value of all small business loans. In other words, just $1 out of every $23 is being loaned to women-owned or women-led small businesses. In terms of being able to access the funding and the credit that they need to grow their businesses, women face real barriers. Last year, WIPP launched a policy platform focused solely on improving the lending environment for women and we are working hard to move those proposals forward.

Another challenge women in business face is related to federal government contracting. We received some exciting news that the federal government finally reached its 5% goal of doing business with women owned small businesses, but that is only 5%. Women represent 36% of all businesses, so we look at this as more of a floor, not a ceiling. However, government contracting is not easy and requires a lot of patience and education. WIPP partners with the SBA and American Express OPEN to run the ChallengeHER event series providing education to women about contracting opportunities.  With the government being the largest consumer in the U.S., it is imperative that education and opportunity for women in government contracting continues.

Finally, I would like to highlight a more personal challenge I feel women business owners face. Women business owners have the added responsibility of being the key decision maker for their business as well as their families – it can be a heavy lift to juggle it all. Therefore it is crucial that we create a better support system for women out there so that they can get the help and support they need as they are trying to reach their goals.

4.    We are seeing more women stepping into the CEO role today; do you believe this is a trend? What do you attribute to this growing tendency?

Women are fantastic leaders. And boards and companies across the country are starting to realize that. All of the data out there shows that when women are in leadership positions within a company, the company does better. You are starting to see some acceptance of that, giving more and more women the opportunity to gain leadership roles across the country. 
 

5.    How do you feel that alternative lenders can play a role in responding to the needs of women business owners?

I think alternative lenders, and those that leverage technology in particular, play a critical role in getting capital in the hands of women business owners. Traditional lending institutions are just not cutting it. The dollars are not going to women, or even to small business at large, quite frankly. We need to look at alternative resources, and we want to make sure that we can find safe and good choices for them to access funding. I think alternative and online lenders play a critical role in filling the gap that is currently out there right now.
 

6.    Besides WIPP you are an entrepreneur yourself, please tell us what being a woman business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?

I grew up in a small business family. My father and uncle own a deli in White Plains, New York, my grandfather and grandmother owned a custom furniture and interior design business. From a very young age, I believe I was infused with the entrepreneurial spirit. I happened to have the pleasure of marrying my husband, who also has that entrepreneurial spirit. We saw an opportunity in Washington, DC with a burgeoning food truck scene, and we had the idea of starting a gourmet popcorn company. We took the leap and made our dreams come true.

Being a women business owner allows me to create my own career trajectory and economic opportunity.  In addition, what I think is so great is that we have two small children and they are getting a similar experience to what I had growing up. Working in your family’s small business instills a great work ethic.

7.    What specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship provides a powerful and wonderful opportunity of allowing you to create your own future. You are not working within a system that has been previously designed with a delineated path towards growth and achievement. You are in charge of where you want to take your company, how you want to grow and what learning experiences you partake in.

I think the flexibility is also a great facet of entrepreneurship. It provides the opportunity for women to dictate how their time is spent, providing the ability for you to raise your family while still achieving in your career path.  Being an entrepreneur is not a nine to five job, however I think that the rewards are expansive.

For those seeking help or looking for partner to assist them in achieving their goals, there are a number of resources for women entrepreneurs.  My organization, WIPP, provides real value for women business owners looking to take their business to the next level or for those wanting to give back to the women entrepreneurship community.  I highly recommend new businesses or prospective entrepreneurs to seek out their local Women Business Center and also, their nearest Small Business Development Center. They both have plenty of guidance and resources for women. Additionally, I urge women to reach out to other women business owners, even if it’s not in your same industry or field of business.  Feedback and input from the experience of other women entrepreneurs can be very helpful. It is important to create a support system from the start of your business.