WASHINGTON, D.C. (WAFB) - On December 29, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced the launch of the 2017 InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge, a nationwide business competition to drive attention and resources to innovative products and services that make life easier and longer.
Competitors vie for $70,000 in prize money provided to SBA for the InnovativeHER competition through a gift from the Sara Blakely Foundation.
Now in its third year, InnovateHER continues to make women a bigger part of the conversations around innovation and investment, helping entrepreneurs realize the empowerment and self-sufficiency that can come from advancing ideas and products that tap into new market opportunities.
Representatives from the government agency says the number of women venture capital partners has dropped from 10% in 1999 to just 6% in 2014, a trend directly correlated to women's access to capital. They also say about 7% of venture capital funding in the U.S. currently goes to women-owned ventures.
SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet said women represent half of the U.S. workforce and control 80% of the nation's purchasing power, but still make up less than 5% of venture capitalists.
"I decided to launch this annual competition two years ago so that we could begin to address the opportunity gap, because when women have an equal role in the marketplace and are able to chart their own paths, our nation as a whole is stronger and more globally competitive," Contretas-Sweet said.
According to SBA, gender bias is well documented in the area of venture capital endeavors, quoting a Harvard Business School study which asked potential investors to rate a series of pitches, some by women and some by men. They say even in instances where the scripts were exactly the same, only 32% of investors said they would fund the woman, compared to the 68% who said they would fund the man.
InnovateHER officially kicks off in winter of 2017 with local competitions to be hosted by universities, accelerators, clusters, scale-up communities, SBA resource partners, and other economic development organizations.
Through the competition, SBA is seeking to amplify products or services that fill a need in the marketplace and have the potential for commercialization.
From the pool of semi-finalists selected from local competitions, SBA will select up to 10 finalists who will be invited to the National InnovateHER Challenge to be held in mid-2017. The finalists will pitch their products and ideas to a panel of expert judges and compete for the top three awards along with $70,000 in prizes.
SBA says they will continue in its efforts to expand the InnovateHER Challenge, focusing on empowering more women in the investment and inovation space. Additional details on InnovateHER can be found at www.challenge.gov.