Latinas in Business President and CEO Susana G Bauman recently spoke with Natalie Madeira Cofield, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Women’s Business Ownership, at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to discuss resources for women entrepreneurs.
In their conversation, Natalie highlighted various SBA initiatives and programs that benefit small business owners and entrepreneurs, especially minority women entrepreneurs, and how small business owners can take advantage of these programs to grow their businesses and thrive.
As the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Women’s Business Ownership, Natalie serves as a senior executive providing executive oversight, management, leadership, and championship of female entrepreneurship and oversees the expansion of the Women’s Business Center (WBC) network across its nearly 140 center footprint.
In addition to her work at the SBA, Natalie is a seasoned entrepreneur and executive with over 15 years of experience in securing diverse capital, building strategic partnerships, and leading state and local economic development policy advocacy to successfully incubate and scale small business development and expansion initiatives in communities throughout the United States.
Most recently she served as Founder & CEO of Walker’s Legacy and the Walker’s Legacy Foundation providing entrepreneurship programming to support thousands of multicultural women entrepreneurs.
Last year, the Office of Women’s Business Ownership was elevated to report directly to the Office of Administrator Guzman. This elevation is a big win for women entrepreneurs and business owners as it puts the agenda of women and women equality right at the ear of leadership with a direct line of communication to the cabinet level secretary, giving priority and immediacy to the challenges of women entrepreneurs.
Overcoming challenges as a woman entrepreneur
As an entrepreneur herself and the daughter of a woman entrepreneur, Natalie knows first hand the challenges women face when starting their own business.
“My story really starts with me as a young girl reading the business plans of my mother when I was 11 years old. My mom is the first entrepreneur and intrapreneur that I was ever really exposed to. She was a Senior Vice President at one of the fastest-growing businesses in the Rochester community, which is where I grew up as a young girl. And I realized even though I hated reading them at the time that I was learning so much about what business looks like, what it meant to start a business, what planning is required for women in leadership, the challenges that we had.”
Natalie watched as her mother grew as an entrepreneur and she saw how people respected her and also how people disrespected her as a leading woman.
“When I say the disrespectful piece, I’m talking about the fact that women have oftentimes found themselves challenged in their leadership in ways that many times men are not. And whether it’s intentional or unintentional, it does have an impact on women, and most certainly had an impact on my mom. And you know, I’m proud to be in a new generation of women who are leading another path that is inspired and paved by women who came before me to really continue to break glass ceilings and to shatter all the limitations that are put before us.”
Becoming an entrepreneur at age 26, Natalie has been a serial entrepreneur ever since. Now in her role as the Assistant Administrator at the SBA, Natalie is honored to represent 12 million women-owned small businesses and continue to expand their network of business resource providers and centers across the country.
Some challenges Natalie has noticed in her role at the SBA include the pervasive challenges that women entrepreneurs have had historically, which is access to capital, access to contracts, access to educational resources, and access to networks—along with additional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the pandemic, a common challenge many women have reported is struggling to manage the duplicity of their role as a mother or caretaker— regardless of what their maternal status is— and as a small business owner. The pandemic put women in a position where they were challenged around managing time, managing emotions, and managing the health and wellness of themselves and others, while giving so much of themselves to their communities.
“We saw during the pandemic the impact that inequity still has on women, as it relates to who’s the first to to leave the workforce, both by required force of the small business and also by default of the many roles and hats that women wear,” said Natalie.
In fact the COVID-19 pandemic saw women leaving the workforce at higher rates than any other time since the 1980s.
“So when you layer that health and wellness component, and the lack of access to markets during COVID-19 pandemic, on top of the existing challenges that women entrepreneurs have had, it creates the type of moment that we’re just trying to address right now at the Small Business Administration, which is a moment where we’re trying to ensure that women have the resources that they need to rebuild, or build, to scale and to grow,” said Natalie. “And that requires that we ensure that we have resource centers across the country, that the distribution of disaster recovery relief is equitable as it relates to women, which I’m proud to say that this Administration and Administrator has done.”
View the full conversation below!
Additionally the SBA has been working to address challenges many minority and immigrant entrepreneurs face in the access of resources. One big obstacle has been addressing the language and linguistic barrier and ensuring that resources and documents are available in enough languages to reach all of the small business community across the country.
Another hurdle that the SBA has helped clear is removing restrictions that previously limited who could access resources.
“When the Biden Harris administration came into office, we realized that the smallest of the small businesses had challenges getting access to PPP,” said Natalie. “We removed the requirements for student loan debt, which disproportionately affects Latinas as it relates to access to education, many of them are taking out educational student loans. And so having that debt would then disqualify them from having access to PPP. We also removed the requirement to have a social security number and allow for those businesses to have tax identification numbers, which made the community of non-citizen based US folks more eligible for access to PPP funding.”
Still, with these barriers removed, documentation is still needed for applications to these assistance programs. Natalie urges businesses to prioritize bookkeeping and utilize the SBA resource centers for help.
“There’s an old saying, ‘You don’t have to get ready when you stay ready.’ At the end of the day, you still need to have your books. You need to know what your numbers are, you still need to be able to enter this information in and to ensure that you are eligible,” says Natalie.
You might be interested: 6 Key business planning resources for Latina entrepreneurs to start anew in 2022
SBA Programs & Resources for women entrepreneurs
Some key resources woman entrepreneurs can utilize to grow and thrive their business:
Women’s Business Center Network Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) are a part a national network of entrepreneurship centers throughout the United States and its territories, which are designed to assist women in starting and growing small businesses. The SBA has 140 Women’s Business Centers across the country, where you can go for training, counseling, advisory courses, assistance with government contracts, applications, and financial applications for loans and other forms of access to capital.
Small Business Development Centers If there is not a Women’s Business Center in a community near you, then you’re also able to access Small Business Development Centers, with over 900 centers across the country. Small Business Development Centers provide counseling and training to small businesses including working with the SBA to develop and provide informational tools to support business start-ups and existing business expansion.
Ascent Platform Ascent is a free learning platform for women entrepreneurs. Women are able to access training and educational resources to teach them how to scale and grow from their kitchen table. If you do not have access to a center, or you don’t have the time to go into a center this platform allows you to manage the training of starting a business whenever and wherever you want to do that.
SBA Government Contracting Programs The SBA offers government contracting programs like the Women Owned Small Business Certification program, and the 8(a) Business Development program for which Latino entrepreneurs, the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the country, are eligible to apply for and to compete for government contracting opportunities.
To learn more about opportunities for women entrepreneurs visit sba.gov