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Papy: Women entrepreneurs matter more than ever

“Women entrepreneurs can drive economic growth,” stated UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the SHE·ERA: 2017 Global Conference on Women and Entrepreneurship. “There is growing global consensus on women’s economic empowerment as a force multiplier for good governance, economic growth, poverty eradication…a universal call to action for all stakeholders, including in business, government, youth and civil society, the agenda articulates priorities for joint efforts, so that all women and men, including young women, can share the benefits of economic growth and development, with no one left behind.”

I love this quote. It serves as a humble reminder that women’s economic empowerment is not only a direct path to gender equity, but as Puri states, one of the most simple yet untapped, “highest return areas of investment.” When women succeed, everyone succeeds. Today, tomorrow and forever after that.

And it makes plenty of dollars and cents. According to the 2016 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, women now make up 40 percent of new entrepreneurs in the United States — the highest percentage since 1996. Even better, The National Association of Women Business Owners states that “more than 9.4 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people, and generating $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015.”

Yet despite substantial progress on the start-up front, the “scale up gap” between men and women remains colossal. Think Grand Canyon colossal. According to the 2016 State of Women Owned Businesses report, “Only 3 percent of women-owned firms in the U.S. have ‘high economic impact,’ generating $500,000 or more in revenue, compared to 9 percent of male-owned firms.” In a 2015 study by TechCrunch, “Only 10 percent of venture capital around the world went to women between 2010 and 2015.” Well surely something might have changed in two years right? According to a 2017 report from our friends at TechCrunch, companies with at least one female founder grew from 9 percent in 2009 to 17 percent since 2012 — a stat that has not changed for five years.”

Sadly, there are a number of constraints on women’s entrepreneurship which are rooted in everything from structural barriers, to social and cultural norms, to age-old stereotypes that point-blank lead to unequal economic opportunities and outcomes compared to men. And while we as a society are ever-moving forward with the arc of progress, it’s a bit like, dang y’all, what’s a girl gotta do around here to bend the arc even more forward?

The easiest step would be to at least #investinwomen but what about also listening to those doing the work and making it happen? Lucky enough, on Thursday, Dec. 7, that’s completely possible at SHE. HUSTLES. A conversation on women’s entrepreneurship emerging in Savannah.

Sure, it’s easy to look at all of the above I’ve mentioned and it feel too large a problem to tackle, but what about what that all looks like locally? What are the ways of supporting local women entrepreneurs and what does that look like?

From candle makers to geospatial data predictors, SHE HUSTLES is an opportunity to get to know some of your local women entrepreneurs here in Savannah and hear from them directly on what it is they are doing to change the game and also what their path has looked like. Better yet, a conversation on how the paths they are taking now are making it easier for the next iteration of women entrepreneurs to come.

The conversation features three entrepreneurs who are forces of nature in their own right: Elondia Harden, owner of Elon Wick, Aleshia Howell, CEO of Codebase, Christine Wacta, co-founder of GeoGen and facilitation by Nichelle Stephens, whose own work as an accountant and small business consultant behind such cool entities as Jelinek Cork Group, Gypsy World and the social justice toolkit, the Safety Pin Box is testament to her dedication for growing small business wunderkinds. In short, this is a dynamite selection of local hustlers, ones we should all be 100 percent-and then some-behind.

But in looking towards the future, what else can we be doing? Who else can we be supporting? To go back to Lakshmi Puri and paraphrase her final call of action at the end of the SHE-ERA conference, we must not only call upon all stakeholders from government, business and civil society to engage in collective actions to level the playing field whether through equitable financial climates, policy changes and the elimination of structural barriers, but to truly imagine — and create — a “Planet 50-50 by 2030.”

Coco Papy is the Community Manager at Bull Street Labs and The Creative Coast, a non-profit organization supporting local innovators which is made possible by the City of Savannah and the SEDA. Connect with Coco at coco@thecreativecoast.org.

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