Women make up more than 30 percent of the businesses in Minnesota, according to state data, yet they account for just 10 percent of its income.
That means most women-run businesses are small, with little chance to grow.
That’s one statistic state Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, and four other senators would like to see changed. They have proposed several bills that would not only level the playing field in pay for working women but would also provide those women entrepreneurs willing to take risks a greater incentive to do so.
Jensen’s bill, SF 2158, would set aside $500,000 from the state’s general fund for a competitive grant program for women looking to start or expand a high-growth, high-revenue business. The program would be run by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.
For the last two years, nerdwallet.com has ranked Minneapolis as the fourth best metropolitan area in the country for women entrepreneurs.
“Minneapolis has the lowest unemployment rate of the top 10 cities for women entrepreneurs, who own nearly a third of the city’s businesses,” according to the report. “The region is home to several organizations serving businesswomen, such as Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota (WeMN), which hosts quarterly networking events, and Women Venture, a nonprofit that aids women-owned businesses through capital financing and consulting.”
In a video Jensen recorded on the senate DFL website and under the Twitter hashtag #mnwomenwin, she tells of her personal experience.
“I started the business with my mom during a time in my life when I was going through a divorce,” Jensen said. “It was a risky thing to do. To make the decision to do it was both difficult and rewarding.”
Faribault business owner Kari LaCanne said her biggest struggle was finding financing to start LaCanne’s Signtastic on Hwy. 60. She is the owner and sole employee of the business she started in 2004.
“The first person I talked to — it was so difficult,” she said. “But the second place I went, it was a piece of cake.”
LaCanne said that self-doubt, especially when the economy is tough, makes you second guess yourself and the time you’re spending trying to develop your own business. Any program that can help women entrepreneurs more easily start up — or in her case, expand — would be welcome.
“I’d like to be able to grow,” LaCanne said. “I’d like to be able to get my own embroidery machine. Having some sort of grant possibility would help me decide to go down that road.”
But not all women entrepreneurs see what Jensen and LaCanne see.
Diane Wilson, of Owatonna, is a retired banker and mentor for SCORE, a southern Minnesota volunteer organization that helps people start their own businesses. She has coached women and men starting their own endeavors and said she’s seen both exude the necessary confidence in their skills and expectation of success.
And as a woman who has seen the banking industry evolve, she said the ability of women to get financing has improved greatly.
“As long as you have your act together, you’re on the same playing field as a man,” Wilson said.
Faribault business owner Sarah Kawell, who owns Mike’s Garage on Hwy. 21, said she’d rather see her legislator do something about overregulation.
“As a woman business owner I find it extremely difficult to keep a small business going right now in today’s economy, it doesn’t matter if you are male or female, it is hard in general with the government rules and regulations we have as business owners,” Kawell wrote on the Daily News’ Facebook page. “The grant program should be available to anyone and everyone who would like to start a business.”
Jensen said Thursday she thinks her bill has a good chance of passing. It is currently part of the Jobs and Economic Development omnibus bill that the state Legislature hopes to move on to Gov. Mark Dayton by the end of the session.
Reach Managing Editor Jaci Smith at 333-3134, or follow her at Twitter.com @FDNJaciSmith