Today, women entrepreneurs face many issues when starting and growing their businesses. But one of the most common pitfalls, says Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), is access to money. “Nationally, just $1 of every $23 of conventional small business loans go to women entrepreneurs,” she notes. “A lot of times, intuition takes over decisions, and the general crowd may feel safer investing in a man that looks right compared to a woman with the same idea.”  

One for the other

Thanks to organizations like the SBA, who helps small businesses who get turned down by conventional lenders, female business owners are thriving, though sometimes putting other parts of their lives on the back burner.

 “'Growing up, my grandmother would tell me that if I worked hard and played by the rules, anything was possible.'”

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is an important part of success, says Contreras-Sweet. “I understand the overtime small business owners input into their venture. When you’re the company's human resources director, CFO, spokeswoman and chief sales officer, you need to find that balance. The key is accepting that you cannot do it all on your own. There’s a saying: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’”

Good culture

That means fostering open communication and an environment where team members feel safe when sharing ideas. Contreras-Sweet emphasizes that promoting workplace flexibility is also a big step in employers building morale and keeping employees (particularly women, who often juggle multiple roles) long-term. “That means reduced or flexible hours and the ability to work from home,” she says.

It’s essential that women continue to inspire and support each other. “Growing up, my grandmother would tell me that if I worked hard and played by the rules, anything was possible,” Contreras-Sweet recalls. “She said, ‘Maria: You could even become a secretary!’ With hard work and determination I’ve had the opportunity to become a secretary—a cabinet secretary in California and now a member of President Obama’s cabinet. Only in America is my story possible.”

She hopes many other women will be able to tell a similar story. “I look forward to encouraging a new generation of women innovators to make our lives safer, easier and healthier,” sums Contreras-Sweet. “My advice to them? Dream big. There is nothing a determined entrepreneur cannot accomplish.”