ASU women entrepreneurs find opportunities with new business grant
“It didn’t hit me for a while that I was one of a few females,” Corbett says. “But gender doesn’t matter, a great idea is a great idea whether you are male or female.”
ASU alumna Paige Corbett is the co-founder of Pet Sit N Stay, an online matching platform for in-home pet care. While in school, Corbett says she felt like she was one of only a few girls at entrepreneurship events.
As of 2014 there are about 9.1 million women-owned businesses, according to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Business Report commissioned by American Express OPEN.
Though Arizona is considered to be in a “much-better-than-average” position than other states according to the report, there could still be room for improvement.
Arizona State University has received a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a new initiative to support and advance women-led businesses.
The $50,000 grant will fund the ASU Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. The new program will increase the strengths of ASU’s Edson Entrepreneurship Initiative and the grant will provide new resources to advance programming for women entrepreneurs at ASU and in the community.
Corbett says that a program such as the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative could encourage women to take the leap to create their own business and to have the confidence in themselves to do so.
The grant stems from the SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund, designed to help startups gain traction in the business community, says Robert Blaney, director of the Arizona district office of the SBA.
The Growth Accelerator Fund aims to draw attention and funding to certain parts of the country where there are gaps in the entrepreneurial community.
“The program allows startup businesses to become viable in less time,” Blaney says.
Blaney says those who were awarded the grants would have to commit to quarterly reports for a year, reporting the number of jobs created, funds raised, startups launched and corporate sponsors. The information gathered in these reports will develop a database of accelerators and their impact.
Some of the other accelerators focus on the agricultural or manufacturing industries, while others are creating programs for software in entrepreneurism.
ASU is not the only place focusing on women entrepreneurs, there were other states awarded the grant with similar programs, Blaney says.
ASU was awarded the grant based on an application and the quality of a pitch video decided by seven judges, Blaney says. There were 800 applicants, 100 finalists and 50 awards, only three of which were universities.
Sidnee Peck, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at ASU, says that the grant further demonstrates ASU’s commitment to grow opportunities for all hopeful entrepreneurs.
“This sends a strong message of our dedication to our students who wish to explore entrepreneurship and receive training that will specifically target needs of various groups, in this case, females,” she says.
By empowering women to learn how to turn their passions into viable organizations, ASU hopes to break down any myths or barriers to entrepreneurship, Peck says.
Though numbers of women entrepreneurs are steadily increasing in Arizona, things can still be done to create more jobs and opportunities for women.
Kristin Slice is a board member at the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Phoenix Chapter and says that ASU has yet to reach out to the organization.
“There are a lot of resources already in place in Phoenix, but there are gaps,” Slice says. “I’m excited to see where ASU thinks the gaps are.”
Slice says that the major gaps for women in the entrepreneurial ecosystem are access to capital and appreciation of women’s abilities to lead.
“If ASU finds a way to strengthen women’s access to capital and makes women feel empowered to ask for money, that could really make a difference,” she says.
“Our focus is to give women the confidence, skills and tools to take their business idea to the next level,” says Stephanie Dollinger, an ASU student and president of the women’s entrepreneurship club on campus.
“Women have the capability to do something and create something,” she says. “But they don’t feel that they have the ability to."
“Providing supplemental guidance and mentorship for women looking to start businesses is just vital,” she says.
Dollinger says she is excited for the grant and for the possibilities it brings for women entrepreneurs not just at ASU, but in the community as well.
Jennifer Boonlorn graduated with a business degree from ASU in 2001 and went on to form her own handbag business, Soul Carrier.
Boonlorn says she would have loved to have a mentor in her time at ASU, someone to push her and keep her on track.
“Someone who checked-in once a week, or even once a month, would have made a huge difference,” Boonlorn says. “I still want a mentor.”
“Having one-on-one genuine conversations, almost life-coaching or career-coaching, could make all the difference to someone starting out,” Boonlorn says.
Boonlorn says how the "white noise" of other people's opinions can really get a woman down when creating her own business and says that she faced a lot of white noise when she was in school.
"What we really need from a program like this is strong women to say to a student 'Yes, you can do this and you can have it all' and to be encouragers," Boonlorn says.
Reach the reporter at Alexa.Dangelo@asu.edu or via Twitter @andangelo15.