Women-Owned Small Businesses Were Shut Out of the Corona Loans. Here’s How We’re “Persisting.”

Her Corner

Frederique Irwin

April 21, 2020

The news rippled through our community of women-owned small businesses: The “corona money” has already run out, less than two weeks after it was announced. Was it true? How could it be? Virtually no one we knew had actually gotten a Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan approved, let alone received any of the $350 billion expressly designed to help small businesses recover from the economic crash of the coronavirus shutdown.

Yet it was true. And while the news has been devastating for millions of small businesses across America — the hope of a lifeline, gone — for the 40% of U.S. small businesses owned by women and especially the hundreds we work with, there was an added disappointment.

IT WAS THE IDEA THAT WE’D TRIED TO DO EVERYTHING RIGHT, AND STILL HAD BEEN SHUT OUT.

Her Corner, a Washington, DC-based company founded in 2012 to help women grow their businesses, operates in three states, and has a network of nearly 1,000 businesses, including brick-and-mortar shops like bakeries and fitness studios, service providers like bookkeepers and website marketers, nonprofit organizations, and everything in between. Our members typically have revenue from $250,000/year to $2 million/year, employ a handful or more people, and are a main source of income for their families. These aren’t Etsy-selling side-gigs (no offense, Etsy-sellers; we love your stuff). But yes, in comparison to a Fortune 1000 company, they’re quite small.

They’re also exactly the type of businesses the PPP loans were designed to help. For example, a PPP loan could have helped Her Corner member Naomi Brown of Star Enterprises, a staffing, janitorial, and training company to commercial hospitality and government entities, more easily keep over 50 people on payroll without having to take out a line of credit or use company or personal savings.

Despite the fact that most women-owned businesses tend NOT to take out loans or get capital to support our businesses (we bootstrap it, alone), when the program was announced, our members HUSTLED. They immediately started reaching out to local banks, sifting through mountains of conflicting information on the web, applying for non-federal assistance programs, finding connections to other bankers, and comparing notes in our private Facebook group. For our part, we held Zoom sessions to talk members through what other resources existed to submit applications, and spoke daily to bankers to help guide the process.

And yet, when the rubber hit the road, the money didn’t go to us, in part because we bootstrap, often without loans and established lines of credit. Within our network, we know of only one woman who has received funds, and another who has been approved. Meanwhile, companies like Ruth’s Hospitality Group Inc., with more than 5,000 workers, received $20 million in forgivable loans. Other large companies hired expensive lobbyists to secure the federal loan, and were successful. That sucks. Because this money, we believed, was supposed to go to the true small businesses that needed it the most.

But we’ll figure it out. We’re savvy, we’re motivated, we’re women. We’ll…persist.

Today, we hosted a new conversation with Her Corner businesses. We shared what we were learning from bankers and others who might have an ear to the ground about future funding amounts. We encouraged our members to remain focused and look for commercially-funded grants and state-run programs. We formed new task forces to mobilize members who want to help other business owners by aggregating and disseminating as much new information as we know. And we are trying to make sure that if new stimulus money is released, that we are at the table to ensure that the money is distributed in a fair and equitable way.

Women deserve better from their government, and from this program. But we won’t be discouraged — we’re working hard to ensure that next time, our voices — and our businesses — are included. And in the meantime, we will continue to work together, to support one another, through this crisis.