Women-Owned Businesses in the Military Community: Growing Against the Odds

Women's History Month with group of women business owners

According to the SBA, roughly 8.5 percent of veterans in the United States are women. At the same time, women own 15.2 percent of all veteran-owned businesses. In other words, women veterans start businesses at a rate that is nearly double their representation in the general veteran population. 

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, join us in an exploration and recognition of women entrepreneurs and small business owners in the military community. 

In 1980, the National Women’s History Project was founded in California by Molly Murphy MacGregor, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett, and Bette Morgan to broadcast women’s historical achievements. In 1981, due to the NWHP’s efforts, Congress declared the week of March 7 “Women’s History Week.” In 1987, the designated was expanded to the entire month of March.

Women Veteran-Owned Businesses Tripled in Number Between 2007 and 2012

In 2012, there were 384,574 veteran women-owned businesses, an increase of 295 percent (nearly triple) from 2007. The percent of veteran-owned businesses owned by women over the same period in time nearly quadrupled from 4.0 percent to 15.2 percent. 

Women Veterans Receive Less SBA Funding Than Male Counterparts

According to an SBA report, in fiscal year 2015, the SBA made 3,354 loans to veteran-owned small businesses. Of those loans, 239 loans (7 percent) were made to veteran women-owned firms.

In terms of total dollars lent, the SBA gave $1.38 billion in loans to veteran-owned small businesses in FY 2015. Of that total, $87.31 million (6.3 percent) went to women veteran-owned businesses. 

A Babson College study found that women are less likely to ask for business loans out of fear of being denied, even though their financial profiles are often better than their male counterparts.

The SBA numbers above don’t reflect how many women veterans applied for SBA loans, but the numbers do show a large difference between the 15.2 percent of veteran-owned companies owned by women and the 7 percent of SBA loans awarded to women veteran-owned businesses.

Our own Bunker Labs Entrepreneur Insights Study, which surveyed the Bunker Labs community in March and April of 2020, found that women who own businesses were three times less likely to be approved for and receive PPP funding than their male counterparts. They were also twice as likely to be unaware of PPP program eligibility. 

Data on Military Spouse Entrepreneurs is Limited

Most of the available data focuses on measuring veteran entrepreneurship, not military spouse entrepreneurship. And yet, at Bunker Labs we know that military spouses often turn to small business ownership and entrepreneurship as flexible career paths that can withstand frequent relocations and caregiving obligations.

According to 2017 data from the Department of Labor, 92 percent of military spouses are women. Only 53 percent participated in the labor market compared to 76 percent of the general population, 13 percent are unemployed (three times the national average), and 31.6 percent are underemployed (working part-time but preferring full-time work). 

Supporting military spouse entrepreneurs and small business owners is crucial to addressing these high unemployment and underemployment numbers.  

Entrepreneur Insights Study 2.0

Bunker Labs is collecting data about the the entrepreneurial landscape over time so we can help bridge the data gap identified. Participation is appreciated and helps us continue to equip veteran entrepreneurs and military spouse entrepreneurs. Help us know more about the challenges you have faced over the past year by participating in the study.

Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners Face Unique Challenges

According to a report by Bank of America and Babson College on women entrepreneurship, women entrepreneurs face three primary challenges in entrepreneurship: 

  • Market misperceptions of women’s leadership abilities and market knowledge, leading to additional scrutiny of women-owned firms
  • Network exclusion that limits women’s access to networks, strategic relationships, referrals, and other benefits based on “who you know” 
  • Pursuing expansion while underfunded, which can result in slower growth and struggles to hire and retain employees compared to better funded companies 

These barriers persist even though data suggests that startups with women in leadership positions perform better. For example, a 2013 SBA report found that, though women-led startups receive less external funding than their male peers, venture capital firms that invested in women-led startups had greater returns than those that did not.

Support Women Veteran-Owned and Military Spouse-Owned Businesses 

The number of women-owned businesses in the military community and general population continues to grow, but systemic barriers to equity persist. With this in mind, at Bunker Labs we urge: 

  • Network leaders and event organizers to actively grow their invitation list to include women small business owners and entrepreneurs.
  • Community members to actively engage with women entrepreneurs as partners, mentors, funders, customers, and advisors.
  • Potential funders, referrers, and other partners to give every company the same level of scrutiny, regardless of the owner’s network status or gender.
  • Public and private funders to invest in women entrepreneurs, whether through loans, private equity, grants, large procurement contracts, or other financial means. 

Women’s History Month Marketplace

We’ve made a list of women-owned businesses in the current Veterans In Residence cohort with products and consumer-facing services. We encourage you to browse the list, and shop to support!

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