Across Arkansas, businesses are experiencing unprecedented hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has cut into many companies’ revenue streams and even caused some businesses to shut down. A range of public and private organizations have stepped up to provide assistance, but one Arkansas organization is focusing specifically on women-owned businesses.
The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas (WFA) is investing in women-owned small businesses throughout the state through its Women Owned fund. Businesses can apply for $5,000 grants to help them navigate the difficulties they may be facing.
According to WFA Executive Director Anna Beth Gorman, the Women Owned fund was developed after the organization commissioned a report in 2018 on women-owned business ownership in Arkansas. The study revealed the concentrations of women-owned businesses in the state and highlighted some of the issues that women face in starting their own businesses.
“Based on that, the last two years as a philanthropic organization, we’ve been investing in additional learning and advocacy about business ownership as a vehicle for economic mobility for women. And in that process, we’ve learned a lot about the challenges that women have with access to capital and getting loans for businesses,” Gorman said. “Part of our work and our planned future work is to, is to disrupt systemic problems that women have faced in getting access to capital.”
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, WFA saw the opportunity to release the grant funds early in order to support businesses in need. As a smaller foundation, WFA is able to be “quite nimble” in responding to unique opportunities, and Gorman said that these grants will be used in a time of significant need.
“We’re doing this because we know that so many businesses are hurting,” she said.
The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation has partnered with WFA in creating the fund, which currently sits at $50,000. The goal, though, is to increase the total amount to $100,000. This amount will allow WFA to impact approximately 20 businesses.
For the first round of funding, 10 businesses will be selected for the $5,000 grants. Gorman said that the candidates for the grants will be “small, 100 percent women-owned” businesses.
WFA will be casting a wide net when searching for the 10 grant recipients. According to Gorman, the foundation is aiming for a “true statewide representation” of women-owned businesses, rather than focusing on specific regions of the state.
“We see this as a really critical time to support the most vulnerable types of small businesses: women, particularly women of color, businesses. We hope that this fund will help women but also serve as an education tool for other thought partners out there and agencies that we can do more and we should do more to support women and minority owned businesses,” Gorman said.
Monday, April 6 was the first day of applications for the grants. On the first day alone, the foundation received more than 30 applications from businesses. The deadline for applications is Monday, April 13, and Gorman said that the foundation intends to get the funding out to businesses as soon as possible.
For a second round to happen, WFA will need additional partners to help continue to support the Women Owned Fund. “We’re going to need people to step up, and it doesn’t have to be big, big gifts,” she said. “Small gifts are going to go a long way in this effort.”