We all know that when it comes to success in business, launching a startup, or seeking funding for an entrepreneurial, the data matters. When women business owners across the United States are consistently outperforming their male counterparts in a number of ways, we should be seeing more funding and investment streaming their way, but frustratingly, the opposite is true.
Data from JP Morgan shows that Black women are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S., with nearly 2.7 million businesses nationwide.
According to Wells Fargo, the number of women-owned businesses between 2019 and 2023 increased at nearly double the rate of those owned by men; and from 2022 to 2023, the rate of growth increased to 4.5 times.
During the pandemic in 2020, despite business closures, women launched more businesses than they closed, while the number of men-owned businesses declined. Additionally, women-owned businesses added 1.4 million jobs and $579.6 billion in revenue to the economy during the pandemic.
In total, 42% of all U.S. businesses are owned by women.
The tl;dr version is this: women business owners are driving economic growth.
But the second half of the inspiring data points we almost always read when it comes to women small business owners, and especially women of color business owners, is the disproportionate barriers they face when it comes to funding and investment.
It is clearly going to take industry-wide, systemic change to see more than just 2% of overall Venture Capital funding going to female founders, where less than 1% goes to women of color founders. But this is not the end of the story, because as we can see by the exponential growth, women entrepreneurs are finding their way forward utilizing a number of programs, support networks and access to resources that enable them to bypass the status quo to reach success.
In many cases, it is women business leaders recognizing the huge gap and creating ways to support one another. This can certainly be said of two distinguished female business leaders – Stephanie Cartin and Courtney Spritzer. They are the co-founders of social media agency Socialfly, and a community platform for female entrepreneurs called Entreprenista. Their collective experience made the duo realize they could empower many more founders to see success in their businesses, starting by tapping into a community of like-minded women and take advantage of tools and mentorship programs.
Their commitment to women business owners didn’t just start and end with a community platform. In 2022, Entreprenista launched its inaugural Entreprenista 100 Awards, presented by Chase Ink, which honors the top 100 women business leaders and provides them with the exposure and recognition they deserve.
If business ownership is all about the bottom line – money – then why aren’t we seeing more women at the top and becoming household names the way some male entrepreneurs are? To get more insight into what it takes to change the status quo, we spoke with Stephanie about the mission of Entreprenista, and the extraordinary women business owners who you need to become familiar with.
Can you first tell us where your entrepreneurial journey began, and what made you want to start a business?
I always had an entrepreneurial spirit as a child. I got my start as a Brownie selling GirlScout cookies and then Beanie Babies. Looking back now, I was always interested in things that were trending and wanting to share those trends with others. Fast forward to 2003, I was a sophomore at Cornell when Facebook first came out. I remember thinking this was going to change the way of marketing in the future and I always stayed on the forefront of what was happening. Courtney and I met through a mutual friend in 2010 and quickly became fast friends.
At that time, I had friends who were starting businesses and they were coming to me asking for help with marketing strategies. I shared that they had to start using social media as it was going to be the best way to reach their audience. I started helping at first small companies put together social media strategies, and they were working! I convinced Courtney to partner with me to start a marketing agency and the rest was history.
We started our social media marketing agency Socialfly over a decade ago, and we got a crash course in building a business from the ground up. By focusing on our own marketing strategies for our agency, we quickly became number one on Google for social media and influencer agencies in NYC and started winning awards for our work.
Many women founders began reaching out to us to meet for coffee to pick our brains and learn from us. Realizing we couldn’t meet the demand for advice through coffee meetings alone, in 2018 we launched the Entreprenista Podcast to share stories of successful women founders and advice at scale.
Then in 2020, with many entrepreneurs needing to pivot due to the pandemic and so many women losing their jobs and deciding to start a business, we focused on building Entreprenista into what it is today, a full media company and membership community dedicated to providing women founders the resources, network and knowledge we wished we had when starting out. Through our podcasts, content, events and our community, The Entreprenista League, we now help women founders at scale launch and grow their businesses.
How did the idea for Entreprenista come about, and what does it do?
Entreprenista started as our weekly podcast that we launched in November of 2018 and since then, has evolved into a full media company and membership community dedicated to serving women founders and leaders. After the quick growth and success of Socialfly, our social media marketing agency, lots of women who were interested in starting businesses began to reach out to us weekly and wanted to go out to coffee to meet up to hear advice and learn how we did it.
Courtney and I love to help absolutely everyone, but we quickly realized it was physically impossible to go out for coffee all day and run our business, so we started brainstorming, how can we help as many women as possible and do it at scale. Our initial solution was to start our podcast to share as many stories of other founders who had grown and scaled successful businesses, so that’s what we did!
Then, in 2020, we started receiving more messages this time from our listeners and followers on Instagram and we’re hearing things like “I lost my job during the pandemic and I want to start a business, can you help me?” or “I need help pivoting my business”. Courtney I realized at that point we needed to build Entreprenista to what it is today: a media company and membership community dedicated to providing women founders with the resources, network, and knowledge we wished we had when starting out.
Women today are the fastest demographic of small business owners in the US, and companies with women CEOs and majority female leadership often outperform all other businesses. With the data showing how impactful women are in the world of business, why is there still so much lack of funding and VC investment?
The amount of VC investment dollars that are given to women founders is absolutely abysmal. Last year only 1.6% of capital went to women. There are several reasons I believe this is the case. First, the number of women in venture capital is very low, so the lack of diversity at these funds contributes to the problem. Decision makers lack diversity and tend to invest in people like them and unconscious bias can come into play. It truly perpetuates the problem.
In addition, oftentimes women do not have access to the existing networks where funding opportunities are shared which again, puts them at a disadvantage when raising capital. Investors receive lots of pitches every single day, and they tend to look at the founders that are direct introductions from people that they know. This means that without those direct connections and introductions, it can be very difficult to get in front of the right investors. It is truly unfortunate because the data shows that women-led startups outperform their male counterparts, generating 63% more value and twice as much per dollar invested.
What do you think needs to fundamentally shift in the entrepreneur landscape for the status quo to change, if data and evidence alone is not working?
We need more women investors and that starts with education. There are more than 13.6 million accredited investor households in the US which means that if we can focus on educating women on what venture investing is and then provide them access to invest in these opportunities, more women founders could get funded. Through Entreprenista and Pearl Influential Capital, we have taken steps to not only educate women about investing and venture investing. In addition, we need more people making introductions and championing women founders to get them in front of the investors that have the capital.
When women make more money they have the opportunity to make a change and can start funds, and invest in women.
What are some of the biggest barriers you see among the female entrepreneurs you work with?
One of the biggest challenges is access to capital and resources. One of the reasons we created our Entreprenista League community was to provide women with all of the resources, tools, community and support that we wish we had when we first started. Courtney and I figured everything out together and we had each other, so we are continuing to pay it forward by making it just a bit easier for everyone else.
In our community we provide all of the best business resources and recommendations for the tools that we’ve used to grow and scale our businesses as well and virtual and in person learning and networking events and brand building and press opportunities. When women support women, nothing is more powerful. I always share that there is enough business to go around for everyone and when all are on one platform to connect, network, do business together and make introductions, we are unstoppable.
There are so many gendered messages women are fed from a young age, the imagery of what a business owner looks like in media, and the way male entrepreneurs are glorified to the status of icons and gods in pop culture. How much does culture and society play a role in keeping female entrepreneurs behind and what can we do to change this?
While I do feel this is starting to change and we are seeing more and more women founders being represented in the media, there still is this take down approach and I think a lot of it has to do with the media needing to share headlines that are click bait.
In order to change this, we need to expand the visibility of successful women founders – which is the driving force behind our Entreprenista 100 awards. Telling these stories and highlighting these women will inspire the next generation.
We also need to rethink how we portray entrepreneurs and leaders – emphasizing qualities like creativity, empathy and collaboration rather than outdated masculine stereotypes. Founders in our community are making billions of dollars in revenue collectively, and they’re wearing pink while they do it.
We’d love to learn more about the Entreprenista 100 awards, and how this is impacting the landscape for the better?
The Entreprenista 100 Awards, presented by Chase Ink, honors and recognizes the incredible accomplishments of women business owners who are leading companies of all sizes and stages across numerous industries. The goal of the program is to raise visibility and increase exposure to the impact women are making in business, their communities, and the world.
In a time when women-led entrepreneurship is on the rise globally, but access to capital and resources are still lacking, The Entreprenista 100 Awards aims to deliver a boost in awareness, credibility, and access to opportunities for 100 exemplary business leaders. Winners from 2023 will be announced in February of 2024 and we are so thrilled to be able to shine a spotlight on these incredible founders who are building incredible businesses. In addition to the top 100 hors this year we will also be recognizing 5 of the women in the premier categories of the year: Innovator of the Year, Changemaker of the Year, Community Builder of the Year, Uplifter of the Year, and Entreprenista of the Year.
It feels like we are bombarded with names like Zuckerberg, Musk, Bezos etc when it comes to people disrupting and shaping the business world. But can you share some of the trailblazing female business owners you know of who are doing incredible things for their communities, industries and the world?
We have thousands of trailblazing Entreprenistas in our community that are changing the world every day – women like Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, CEO of BrainTrust, who has built an ecosystem of mentorship, education and community for Black Beauty and Wellness Founders, as well as a venture fund dedicated to investing in Black Beauty and Wellness Founders. Adriana Carrig is the founder of Little Words Project, who started selling handmade bracelets in college as a way to spread kindness, and has now created a global positivity movement.
Power to Pitch founders Katie Dunn and Kat Weaver are helping women founders from pre-seed to seed raise capital and get access to much-needed grants for their businesses. Tori Bell, founder of Inclusion Unpacked, has created a community that enables business owners to create inclusive workplaces from the very start. And so many more!
How can we specifically change the landscape for women of color, who receive even less VC funding than white women? What is Entreprenista doing to acknowledge this data point?
We actively build partnerships with organizations founded by women of color, like BrainTrust and Inclusion Unpacked, to expand our community’s access to diverse founders and investors. Leveraging our networks, we make warm introductions for our members to get their foot in the door with venture capital. We regularly connect them to women VCs on panels and in pitch competitions.
And we shine a spotlight on leaders like Kendra and Tori who are changing the landscape through their ventures and advocacy. Our philosophy is that change requires dismantling barriers through hands-on effort – whether it’s making connections, amplifying voices, or gathering a chorus to speak against enduring bias in the ecosystem. There is power in solidarity.
If you could each give some advice to a young female entrepreneur to equip herself with everything she needs to know before starting her business, what would that advice be?
My biggest piece of advice to women considering entrepreneurship is simple — just get started! Too often, aspiring founders get stuck endlessly talking about their business ideas without ever actually diving in. But the truth is, you’ll learn most things along the way by starting. The perfect plan will reveal itself through action. Of course, it helps immensely to have an empowering community of fellow founders to lean on and learn from.
Thinking ahead 10 or 20 years from now, what do you hope the history books will say about the landscape of women small business owners, and the legacy Entreprenista is creating with its impact?
There has never been a more empowering and opportune time for women to start and grow thriving businesses! With the tremendous growth we’ve seen in women-owned companies, as well as the business tools available to make launching businesses more accessible and affordable, it’s clear the future is for women founded companies.
More funding, resources and communities exist now to help women succeed on their own terms, whether that’s building a multi-million dollar empire or making a meaningful impact while earning an income that is exciting. Inside our Entreprenista League community, we believe defining your own version of success is key. Some women want to aggressively scale and sell a huge company, while others find fulfillment in making a difference in their community.
There are no limits anymore for women entrepreneurs — the possibilities are endless! With the right mindset and support systems like The Entreprenista League as well as communities like Press for Success that really focus on giving women founders the tools to get press for their business, women can turn their dreams into reality. The future for women in business is brighter than ever. I truly believe if you can dream it, you can build it!