The 3rd Annual InnovateHER Challenge Aims to Help Entrepreneurs and Women-led Startups Gain Traction

The business world is dominated, by a considerable margin, by men. Women receive about 7 cents on the dollar compared to men when it comes to venture capital funding.

In all fairness, getting a business to the point where it would either be accepted by venture capitalists or starting one primarily with VC money is no easy feat for a man or a woman. Recognizing that women do face special challenges when it comes to starting a business, the Small Business Administration (SBA) created the InnovateHER program three years ago. It was created to both highlight projects led by women that benefit women, and give them the funds necessary to take their business to the next level.

Unlike some women-specific grants, the InnovateHER program allows businesses to participate, not restricting the scope of eligibility to just individuals.

For the 2017 iteration of the challenge, there will be $70,000 up for grabs split among the top three finishers at the national competition. Those interested in submitting their idea or current product will need to find a local competition, all of which will pick one winner to submit to the SBA in a semi-final round. 10 finalists will head to Washington D.C. in September to pitch their plans to a group of SBA administrators, with the top three taking home prize money, but all of the projects receiving special recognition.

This is an amazing program for female entrepreneurs, who have limited access to capital, to bring their projects to life. The 2016 winner created and runs a website dedicated to sewing projects while the 2015 winner was in the process of creating a biodegradable pregnancy test that was easy to read but could be easily concealed in the palm of your hand.

Looking at this competition from an outsider’s point of view, this is a wonderful way to get women-led businesses some traction that they might otherwise not see. Not every project is going to return hundreds of times an investor’s money, which is what many venture capitalists look for – expansion potential. Of the 6 prize winners from the last 2 years of the competition, only one – Flat Out of Heels – has a mass market appeal to all women.

Women also have a harder time getting loans for businesses primarily because they both earn less than men, and because they tend to have lower credit scores. The government is stepping up in at least a measurable way to help these small businesses get the funding and attention they need in order to be competitive in the market.

Applications are due at various times between May 1st and mid-June depending on your location.

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