Finding the Funding

A look at how local financial institutions are helping a growing number of women-owned businesses breach the funding gap.

As of January 2017, there were 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States—a growth of 114 percent over the past 20 years.

While they now make up 39 percent of the businesses in this country, women-owned companies only make up 8 percent of the employment and 4.2 percent of the revenues, according to the 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report Commissioned by American Express.

In this survey, New Orleans was ranked among the bottom five metropolitan areas for least economic clout (defined as combined growth rates of women-owned businesses for number of firms, employment and revenues).

Why the gap in employment and revenue numbers? One reason is that women entrepreneurs,  especially minority women entrepreneurs —who represent 71 percent of new women-owned businesses but only 22 percent of the revenues — tend to experience unique challenges, industry access to capital to launch their business ventures and access to resources, mentors or advisers to continue developing their growth.

Fortunately, there are some financial institutions in New Orleans that are aiming to support all women-owned businesses with the needed capital and resources to help them launch and grow.

Help From LiftFund

As a mission-driven organization led by a female leader who understands firsthand the challenges business owners face on a daily basis, LiftFund’s mission is to empower women business owners and provide them with the needed tools, resources and capital to be successful.

“LiftFund began serving the New Orleans small-business community in 2009,” says Lindsey Navarro, senior business development officer for the organization. “Since then, we have provided more than $7.6 million in small-business loans and business support to owners who are not able to qualify through traditional sources. Our customer base consists primarily of the underserved and underbanked, which often includes women and minority entrepreneurs.”

In New Orleans, women business owners make up 42 percent of LiftFund’s lending portfolio, and that number has been consistently increasing.

Last year, with support from JP Morgan Chase, LiftFund launched LiftUP—a program that provides faster access to affordable small-business loans for underserved women-owned and minority small businesses. To be eligible for a LiftUP loan, the business must be majority-owned by a woman and located in Jefferson or Orleans Parish.

“Accessing capital from any financial institution is a process that takes time,” Navarro says. “With LiftUP, we aim to streamline the process and reduce our underwriting and approval time from an average of five weeks to as little as four days. Our LiftUP loans range from $500 to $15,000 and can be used for operating or working capital, marketing, professional services and similar business expenses.”

LiftFund client Dr. Iisha Bailey is the owner of the Mastectomy Boutique, an online and retail store that focuses on providing breast cancer survivors with an array of essential products pre- and post-mastectomy. Bailey applied for financing at different local banks but was considered a startup and not eligible for a loan, despite the fact that she had been operating as an online retailer for a year.

“At LiftFund, she qualified for a $15,000 loan that enabled her to purchase the necessary equipment and inventory to open the physical location of her specialty boutique,” Navarro says. “Without access to capital, she would not have been able to grow her business at a critical point—a misstep that can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure for a small business.”

LiftFund also works closely with community organizations that support women entrepreneurs, such as the Urban League’s Women’s Business Resource Center, to provide business education and guidance to entrepreneurs about how they can prepare to access capital for their businesses.


Did you know?

of women-owned businesses launched each day are owned by women of color, but they represent less than 22 percent of the revenues.
Revenues of all women-owned businesses in the U.S. in 2017
Revenues of minority-owned women businesses in 2017
Non-minority women-owned business revenue in 2017

“If revenues generated by minority women-owned firms matched those currently generated by other women-owned businesses, they would add $1.1 trillion in revenues and 3.8 million new jobs to the U.S. economy.”

Source: 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report Commissioned by American Express

A Powerful Connection

Fidelity Bank offers the P.O.W.E.R (Potential of Women Entrepreneurs Realized) program, designed to meet the needs of women in business throughout the region.

“We are passionate about helping businesses thrive in the communities we serve,” says Liz Broekman, director of P.O.W.E.R. at Fidelity Bank. “We believe in small business, and women-owned business is a big portion of the overall population — and growing every year. Through our relationship-based approach, we focus on understanding what’s important to the business owner and recommend solutions.”

P.O.W.E.R bundles a wide array of financial products exclusively for entrepreneurial women and combines them with personalized service delivered via its P.O.W.E.R. partners. It offers resources such as a P.O.W.E.R. plug podcast, a calendar of women-centered events in the area and a private directory of members.

“But what our P.O.W.E.R. members seem to enjoy most is the opportunity to connect and network with each other through our sponsored events, like our smaller group settings — called P.O.W.E.R. Hours — and our larger quarterly events,” Broekman says. “We have watched businesses and friendships grow organically.”

Allison Albert, owner and founder of Pet Krewe, a pet costume company, came to Fidelity in search of a small-business loan to expand her business. Thanks to P.O.W.E.R., she not only received the funds necessary to expand her retail presence, but made a series of local contacts with women who own businesses who started offering her products in their stores.

“Fidelity’s P.O.W.E.R. program has helped me network with amazing women that I’ve used for insurance and marketing needs,” Albert says. “I’m also in the process of switching my checking accounts because  the program gives discounts and bonuses to P.O.W.E.R. checking account holders. It’s a win for everyone.”

Fidelity Bank’s P.O.W.E.R. group will also be fielding a team for this year’s Women Build, a project by the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity where women help build a home from start to finish for two hard-working New Orleans women and their families.

“The energy, passion and excitement for this project is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” says Marguerite Oestreicher, chief advancement officer for New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. “We create an environment that will allow women of all capabilities and backgrounds to come together in support of one another and the Habitat partner families. Volunteers will include strong women from all walks of life who contribute their time, love and labor to the project.”

Women Build will take place from May 9 to June 2, with volunteer opportunities available on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week.

Fostering Diversity

Katie LeGardeur, managing director and market leader for JPMorgan Chase & Co., says diversity and inclusion are the cornerstones of the company’s corporate culture.  

“The same is true for our communities and our economy,” she says. “They gain incredible strength from diversity. Creating greater opportunity for the broadest spectrum of entrepreneurs fosters greater innovation, creativity and productivity. Equity is indeed a growth strategy.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co. has invested more than $2 million in Louisiana to help create a more inclusive small-business ecosystem, with its grant-making focused on ensuring greater accessibility and connectivity for women and entrepreneurs of color.  

“We are committed to expanding opportunities for these entrepreneurs, who have historically faced difficulties in accessing the resources needed to start and grow businesses—especially those with a high bar to entry such as tech, health and biosciences,” LeGardeur says. “In addition to support through our investments and lending, we bring women in business together to meet and learn from peers and bring helpful resources to them.”

For instance, last fall the company brought more than 100 women in New Orleans together for an afternoon with Mel Robbins, a CNN commentator, best-selling author and entrepreneur.

“Creating greater economic opportunity must be a responsibility and an imperative for all of us,” LeGardeur says. “The fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. is minority women, and when people can’t participate fully in a growing economy, it creates frustration. It divides us and creates a whole host of serious civic problems. Financial institutions can, and must, do something about it."


Top 5 Metropolitan Areas where Women-Owned Businesses have MOST increased Economic Clout between 2002 and 2017

1. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia area NC/SC
2. San Antonio, Texas
3. Austin, Texas
4. Indianapolis, Indiana
5. (Tie) Salt Lake City, Utah and Riverside, California

5 States where Women-Owned Businesses have seen the LOWEST growth in Economic Clout between 2002 and 2017

1. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
2. New Orleans, Louisiana
3. St. Louis, Missouri
4. Boston, Massachusetts
5. Providence, Rhode Island