On Our Radar

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How to Support Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Areas

By Pat Heffernan on Jun 6, 2017 11:12:00 AM


The need is well documented. The Kauffman Foundation and others have detailed the female-male gap in business startup rates, gross revenues and number of employees for comparable businesses, even within the same industry. The challenge has become identifying promising, practical solutions -- especially in non-metro areas.

Where Are We Now?

The opportunity gaps and challenges of women entrepreneurs are identified in reports from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Change The Story Vermont, and supported by the experience of the women entrepreneurs who are members of the Women Business Owners Network, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and the American Sustainable Business Council.

Change The Story Vermont confirmed the gap for women-owned business in Vermont parallels (or exceeds) the national gap in their 2016 Status Report: Women’s Business Ownership and the Vermont Economy. Two highlights:



The Kauffman Foundation documented four major challenges faced by women entrepreneurs:

  1. Financing, access to capital and contracts
  2. Mentors and access to information
  3. Cognitive biases
  4. Family dynamics 

Collaborative Partners

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Research & Education Foundation — in collaboration with the Women Business Owners Network, Change The Story Vermont, Net Zero Vermont, and the American Sustainable Business Council — have proposed establishing a new entrepreneurial support organization (ESO), or hub, to address the gap in existing services for women entrepreneurs.

Women's Enterprise Hub - Burlington VT logo horiz

Making It Happen

We plan to do this over a two-year period by:

  • Coordinating and categorizing local resources, including existing co-working, innovation centers and education/training services, access to capital and contracts, childcare and elder care services, transportation, etc. Note that we will be collaborating with existing programs serving women, such as Mercy Connections Women’s Small Business Program and the Center for Women & Enterprise, which will be promoted and cross-referenced to increase awareness and utilization. The Burlington hub will not be offering classes or duplicating services already available.
  • Building an online virtual hub for local women business owners, WEHub-BTV.org website [Domain name reserved.] The online hub will feature:
    • A detailed knowledge base of local resources for women entrepreneurs.
    • State and national resources for women business owners (WBOs).
    • Coordinated local calendar for events/seminars/special services for women business owners. (Similar to the calendar maintained by the Vermont Commission on Women, but localized and focused solely on women and enterprise.)
    • Weekly ‘upcoming events’ newsletter for local events and opportunities for women business owners.
    • Scheduling a workstation or conference room in a safe and confidential physical hub.
    • Sign up to request or serve as a mentor.
  • Developing and implementing a new, cross-generational and inter-generational peer-mentor matching system based on a tested model from the Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship (GIEE).
  • Making a welcoming physical hub for local WBOs available at 176 Battery Street in the Downtown Burlington Enterprise Zone. This is a high-visibility, ground level, accessible space near existing and planned public transportation, childcare, schools, eldercare, and existing business services. The space will be available for occasional, short-term use of workstations, internet, and a private, confidential conference room for peer-mentor or small group meetings (up to 15 people). Use of the space can be scheduled via the website at no charge. Note that this is not a co-working or incubator space, but rather a place to find out what is available in the area or consult with a mentor about when/how/whether to expand into such a space, or to network with others at smaller events.
  • Monthly group meetings (1-1/2 hours) in Burlington with local guest speakers and networking focused on the challenges specific to women business owners.
  • Quarterly ‘spark sessions’ with regional/national speakers for larger get-togethers in Burlington focused on the challenges specific to women business owners, for example, access to capital and contracts, or family dynamics and cognitive biases.
  • Promoting the HUB and local resources available in Burlington, and celebrating local women entrepreneurs in news stories and at events.

This approach combines opportunities for supportive, face-to-face connections and inter-generational mentoring in a physical hub with the convenience of a digital hub and knowledge base to make the most of limited existing resources as well as an aging population.

The Opportunity

In Vermont, 7.25 percent of working women own a business as a primary occupation and nearly 30 percent of all privately held firms are owned by women. We expect the initiative to directly or indirectly benefit the same percentages of working age women and privately held businesses in the Burlington Metropolitan Statistical Area. If we combine 30 percent of an estimated 8,107 establishments with employees, plus 7.25 percent of 26,226 self-employed proprietors (2016-Q2_MSA), there are more than 4,000 businesses owned by women in the Burlington area. If the Burlington HUB helped 1 in 4 of the existing 1,900 women-owned businesses without employees in Burlington hire one worker, it could result in more than 400 new jobs.

Change the Story calculated the economic opportunity for the state of Vermont if women business owners had parity with their male counterparts.


Want to See Change for Women in Vermont?

If you represent an organization interested in finding out more about this collaborative partnership for change, please contact us: 

ESO Partnership



2016 Status Report: Women’s Business Ownership and the Vermont Economy; (Change the Story Vermont)

Imagining an ideal future state for women entrepreneurs; (Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation)

Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs: Creating Entrepreneurial Ecosystems; (Kauffman Foundation)

The Making of “Experienced Economy" [That is, cross-generational and inter-generational]; Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship (GIEE)

Webinar: http://asbcouncil.org/video/making-experienced-economy#.WXTsHtPyvNB

PDF: http://asbcouncil.org/sites/default/files/the_making_of_experienced_economy.pdf

Entrepreneur Support Organization challenge, (Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation)

“Turbulent shifts are shaping the future of entrepreneurship to be dramatically different than what it is today, or was in the past." State of Entrepreneurship 2017, (Kauffman Foundation)

Millennials Can’t Keep up With Boomer Entrepreneurs, (Kauffman Foundation)

Stalled at the Start: The Need for Affordable Childcare in Vermont, (Let's Grow Kids)

The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth, McKinsey Global Institute.


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On Our Radar highlights issues of interest to the MPI Team, our clients and friends. We tend to pick topics of particular relevance to Vermont, whether or not they have emerged in national awareness yet.

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