Question: What is the key information women should know before launching a startup?
Answer: Small-business ownership can be a great option for women since you get to set many of your own standards and define your own success. But it’s not just a day at the beach. It requires a real commitment and, preferably, a passion for what you choose to offer as a product or service. Just because you are a talented and creative home chef, that might not translate into success as a restaurateur! Some serious introspection and an honest self-assessment is recommended for any aspiring entrepreneur before you invest time and money in a new venture. Check out the tools on SBA’s site, www.sba.gov/content/use-our-starting-assessment-tool. Then it’s time for market research, a feasibility study and planning.
Q: What kinds of financing programs are there for women starting a business?
A: SBA financing programs are available to women who are starting — and growing — their own small business. As a matter of fact, during fiscal year 2010 in Hawaii, 120 female business owners received SBA loans for a total of more than $14.5 million. SBA loans have provided capital for restaurants, novelty stores, doctor’s offices, pet care, interior design, educational facilities, nursing homes, septic tank services, rehab and tourism services.
The 7(a) guaranteed loan is most popular because of its flexibility in structure, variety in the use of proceeds, broad eligibility requirement and credit criteria. SBA loans are made through participating banks and credit unions with an SBA guarantee of 50 percent to 90 percent depending on the amount and the type of loan. Particularly for startup ventures, the SBA guaranty reduces the lender’s risk of borrower nonpayment.
Microloans have also been popular for female business owners who are starting a small operation.
Key things to keep in mind when seeking startup capital include successfully developing your feasibility study and business plan to fully understand your capital requirements and show repayment ability, maintaining your good credit and having personal funds or savings to invest in your venture.
Q: What are the advantages/disadvantages in Hawaii’s business environment for women-owned businesses?
A: Starting a business in Hawaii — and operating successfully and profitably — can be challenging for anyone because the cost of doing business is much higher than in many other parts of the nation and the world. It’s important to be cognizant of all the costs that will be involved since many startups falter when delays and unplanned expenditures suck up too much capital.
Again, good planning is important for a successful launch. Women tend to be good planners and tend to be somewhat more conservative with their targets. Also, when faced with adversity, women are adaptable, flexible and resilient. Hawaii’s aloha spirit and multicultural and ohana lifestyle also support different business models that can accommodate better life balance and choices that women often require. Owning a business and being the boss also allows women some self-determination in their work life and the rewards they seek.
Q: Where can women go to get support/help when starting a company?
A: Fortunately, there are many options available when seeking support or help for your business venture. SBA offers a variety of information, resources and service delivery choices. The (SBA) Hawaii District Office staff has a great deal of experience in working with small businesses, providing quality consulting and links to a broad range of resources in the community. They get out in the field, conducting "SBA Resource Days" at financial institutions for small-business owners to meet for free confidential consultations. A schedule for upcoming locations and dates can be found at www.sba.gov/hi on our calendar.
The Hawaii SBDC is a partnership with the University of Hawaii-Hilo that has offices on all major islands, providing excellent support with highly skilled staff across the state.
SCORE, a cadre of experienced business owners and professionals who volunteer their time, experience and talent to help local small-business owners, is another source of assistance and support.
We are so fortunate to have many other organizations that offer guidance and other types of assistance locally — the Business Action Center, Export Assistance Center, the High Technology Development Corp., Minority Business Enterprise Center, PACE, Maui Economic Opportunity, Chambers of Commerce and many more.
The Hawaii Small Business Resource Guide, available online and in print from SBA, provides a list and contact information for many of the offices any startup or existing small business should know about. It’s a great resource!
Q: What kind of networking opportunities are there in Hawaii?
A: Networking opportunities are really everywhere: any business meeting or social event, community or sporting activities, Chamber of Commerce luncheons or after-hours activities, trade groups and associations. The key is to be prepared to showcase your business and, in a quick "elevator" pitch, convey your enthusiasm, expertise and the unique characteristics of your small business. Women are natural communicators but often don’t use that innate skill effectively to support their business goals.
The right organization — such as the Social Wahines, Professional Women’s Network, Organization of Women Leaders and the YWCA — can be a great networking opportunity but can also be a gold mine for mentoring.
Q: Are there any other resources for female business owners?
A: SBA’s Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) contracting program was launched in April, opening new opportunities for more women-owned firms to do business with the federal government and to assist the contracting officers of federal agencies to meet the statutory goal of 5 percent of all contracts awarded to WOSB.
A Women’s Small Business Roundtable to discuss opportunities and the latest programs and services for women-owned small businesses will be conducted at SBA’s Hawaii District Office at Waterfront Plaza from 4 to 5:30 p.m. July 26. The round table is free and will be followed by an optional, no-host networking event.
— Interviewed by Kristen Consillio
Editor’s note: "Akamai Money" seeks out local experts to answer questions about business in Hawaii. If you have an issue you would like us to tackle, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.