Business leaders: Texas can do more to help women-owned businesses

More can be done to boost the number of women-owned businesses in Texas, female business leaders told U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Comptroller Susan Combs during a roundtable discussion in Austin on Thursday.

About 29 percent of businesses in Texas are owned by woman, but with additional intervention that number could be higher, business leaders said.

“These are great stories, some of which I will never forget,” Cornyn, R-Texas, said after hearing female business owners share stories on how they got their starts.

The discussion, held at Chez Zee restaurant in North Austin, started off with discussion of an American Express study that found the number of women-owned businesses in Texas grew by nearly 100 percent from 1997 to 2014. That ranked Texas was second in the nation behind Georgia, which posted a 118 percent growth rate, according to the study.

The study didn’t include specifics on whether that growth rate included women-owned businesses that failed. An American Express spokesperson could not immediately be reached Thursday.

Brian Kelsey, principal of Civic Analytics, an Austin-based economic development firm, said Texas doesn’t appear to stand out from other states in terms of the share of total businesses that are owned by women.

As of 2007, there were more than 600,000 women-owned businesses in Texas, which was about 28 percent of all businesses in Texas, Kelsey said, citing the latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau. If you look at women-owned businesses as a share of all businesses, Texas ranked 18th, well behind places like Washington D.C., Maryland and New Mexico, he said.

“The important point is to ensure that we do everything we can to lower any barriers that may exist for women to start and grow businesses,” Kelsey said.

Still, Combs said, the growth figures are positive and point to a determined set of female business owners.

“It’s a really big deal,” Combs said, adding later, “we are feisty, we are not afraid to kick anybody in the shins and that’s why we are successful.”

Several area female business leaders, including the founder of Triton Ventures, Sugar Mamas Bakeshop and others, shared how they started their operations, lauded some of the resources that helped aid those starts and also laid out concerns that can hold back such entrepreneurship efforts.

For example, Sugar Mamas Bakeshop owner Olivia Guerra O’Neal, who said she had learned the ropes of starting a business from her father by the age of 10, said that while Austin has been welcoming she’s also faced challenges with her business location and working with the city’s health department.

“We do believe there could be more done to help women-owned business in Texas,” O’Neal said.

Laura Kilcrease, founder and managing director of Triton Ventures, said she has also seen the challenges facing female business owners.

Kilcrease said improving the size of state and federal contracts for small businesses, improving access to capital, boosting education could help grow the number of female-owned businesses in Texas.

“I think education through our universities in our is going to be key,” she said.

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