Encouraging success for women-owned businessesOct 04, 2023 11:53AM ● By Randee Brown
The Greater Women’s Business Council® is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that is a regional partner of Women's Business Enterprise National Council providing Women Business Enterprise certifications in GA, NC, and SC. GWBC is one of 14 regional partner organizations authorized to provide third-party certifications for corporate entities in the public and private sectors, and according to President and CEO Roz Lewis, GWBC is one of the largest organizations in the US.
“We’ve certified close to 1 million businesses between three states,” Lewis said. “Think about what that number must mean for economic value. These are women going out and trying to make a difference in their communities, and they are hiring within their communities. The breadth and quality and talent that we have within these women-owned businesses is phenomenal, as most small businesses are.”
Certifications are gender-driven, as the organization certifies that women have majority control of the company, at least 51%. Believing in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, males can be involved in these businesses, but women must be the majority, and the documentation of the business must state that.
The WBE certification is a tool that gives access to education, resources, funding through partnerships and Community Development Financial Institutions, and innovative networking opportunities with major corporations including introductions to representatives from Fortune 1,000 companies and prime suppliers.
“Large corporations are interested in supporting this organization to create a central portal to access WOSBs for opportunities and to build relationships,” Lewis said. “This helps major corporations support their goals of spending with diverse suppliers.”
Once a business is certified, they also get access to the listing of corporate members across the country to access other WBEs to engage as a partner, supplier, or customer.
Obtaining certification can also help WBEs ensure the business is legally structured as it should be, as all documents needed for properly setting up a business are required for certification. The 60 to 90 day process includes time to conduct a site visit, and certifications are not based on viability, they are based on ownership.
Other benefits of becoming a certified WBE include a professional WBENC seal and Woman-Owned logo to use in business branding, and membership offers access to member-only networking events, webinars, and more.
“We provide an environment for women to come in and share their business,” Lewis said. “We’re on a mission to provide impactful opportunities for WBEs to grow and become competitive in the marketplace.”
There is also a mentor/protege program addressing top challenges for women in business. Lewis said the top two challenges are available mentorship and access to capital, and the third is being taken seriously. GWBC felt it was important to create a WBE to WBE mentorship program for those who understand the challenges from startup to scaling a business. She said they are engaging more corporations to participate, and they also have peer-to-peer partnerships in which participants must interview and meet qualifications.
“This program has been really successful,” Lewis said. “The real beauty of this program and its outcomes is sustaining relationships that take place after graduation.”
More programs are planned to be launched in Q4, including topics like branding and leadership. Lewis said there has also been a long-time vision of opening a women’s business collective, and GWBC is targeting the end of 2023 to open a physical space in Atlanta to allow WBEs access to hot desks, access to networking, engagement, resources, and matchmaking sessions, providing a safe environment in which to thrive.
Trends for WBEs are changing as well. With so many WBEs now in existence, they are paving the way for the next generation to follow in their footsteps.
“These women are not only interested in participation for themselves,” Lewis said. “They are experiencing the value of becoming certified, and they are creating a pipeline and are unbelievable in their quest in the marketplace.”
Some women-owned businesses are also looking at succession planning, providing opportunities for the next generation to acquire existing businesses owned by women as opposed to creating their own. According to Lewis, this generation is setting the foundation for the next to take these businesses to the next level.
While women in business have had moments of celebration in business equality, they are still part of an underserved community. Women of color are part of the largest growth group within women-owned businesses, and are still in need of assistance.
“Wells Fargo demonstrated their support by allocating $100 million in five cities including Charlotte and Atlanta to give a lift to under-supported communities, and Bank of America and probably others are doing the same thing. We still need more angel investors for these businesses, women or men, who can profile more financial understanding and support for our WBEs.”
Lewis often sees that women are adverse to loans, and believes a paradigm shift needs to take place. Women are often mitigating risk, but some do so to the point of paralyzing the business’s ability to grow. Repetitive messaging showing examples of successes and how they got there can be helpful.
“Women are hiring more, offering a direct correlation to community growth and expansion,” Lewis said. “Looking at the economic value of women-owned businesses is what conversations should be on a daily basis, and now is the time to really look at the intentions and impacts on our communities. Our goal is to expand even more within the Carolinas to hopefully accomplish that, offering opportunities for WBEs to engage with us and take advantage of resources in order to grow.”