By: Tina Smith
NEW YORK — Actress Jessica Alba is a supporter. So is the president and CEO of Mastercard. The co-founder of AOL and the CTO of Estee Lauder are also on board. What do they all have in common? They are among the 85 American business leaders and startup founders who have signed their names to an open letter addressed to the next U.S. president.
The letter outlines policy recommendations designed to drive and foster female entrepreneurship in the U.S., including increasing access to capital, expanding entry into local and global markets, and streamlining government processes for entrepreneurs seeking to get their businesses up and running.
According to the group of signees, there is a great deal of money potentially at stake — $30 billion to be exact. The letter cites a McKinsey Global Institute study which found the United States’ GDP could rise by that amount if women and men contributed equally to entrepreneurship efforts. But gender inequalities in society and the workplace have reduced women’s clout and, as a result, their economic contributions.
“I always think about the venture funding gap, but there’s really a gap in the whole cycle,” said Elizabeth Gore, who spearheaded the letter and is an entrepreneur-in-residence at computer-maker Dell. “Women need bridge loans. They need payment cycles that are not 90 days. They need to be paid as sub-contractors within 30 days … so this notion of access to capital is much bigger than I actually perceived.”
The letter was sent November first to both Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump, a week before participants knew who would become the next president. Of the 85 signees, 63 are female CEOs and startup founders, including Lisa Price of Carol’s Daughter, Melanie Whelan of SoulCycle and Sarah Kauss of S’well Bottle.
“We just had not seen … a lot of talk about job creation, small business and entrepreneurship, and that’s usually one of the biggest pillars of politicians, is who’s going to create the most jobs, who’s going to be best for business,” Gore said. “We thought there was a real opportunity to say, ‘Let’s do something to really boost the vernacular again about entrepreneurship, really look at women’s entrepreneurship as a huge opportunity.'”
Women-owned businesses contribute “significantly” to the country’s economy, according to a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The report found that between 1997 and 2007, the number of companies owned by women grew twice as fast — 44 percent — as those owned by men. These businesses also added roughly 500,000 jobs.
For Gore, the proof is in the pudding. “If [women] get access to capital, they outperform their male peers. … That is a good business bet, not just a social bet,” she said.
To date, there has not been an official response to the letter from either political party, but Gore remains optimistic.
“In February, we’ll be heading to Washington, D.C., with some of the letter signatories to speak with policymakers on Capitol Hill and explain why it’s critical for our country and the economy to be prioritizing the success of women entrepreneurs,” she said.