Her husband, a samurai warrior, had just committed suicide after being defeated at Osaka Castle by his archrival. The samurai’s widow, Shige Maki, escapes with her son and spends the next 15 years on the run. The two wind up in Edo (which would eventually become Tokyo) where they work the rice fields and brew soy sauce—thus creating the origin tale of Kikkoman (which you probably have in your fridge right now).
First woman entrepreneur? Possibly. The authenticity of the story has certainly been questioned over the years. Nevertheless, the tale is heroic and inspiring (and possibly needs its own orchestral score)—and it’s not too far removed from the plight (or opportunity?) of women today setting out on their own.
We’ve made great strides, for sure. Just since 1972, the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. has grown by almost 3,000%. (I know I was proud to add to that number back in 2006.) And 40% of new entrepreneurs are women! But we still have a long way to go. Here are some of the more sobering statistics:
- You can only find an equal rate of men and women-owned businesses in seven countries across the globe.
- About 30% of U.S. businesses are women-owned, but those businesses only employ about 6% of the country’s workforce.
- Less than 2% of U.S. startups that receive funding are owned or led by women.
Why are these numbers important? It turns out women entrepreneurs bring a lot to the global table (not just the soy sauce).
3 positive impacts of women-owned businesses
Beyond just the obvious righting of the ship as it pertains to the gender pay gap, there are larger global benefits to more women entrepreneurs:
A positive impact on societal issues – While the success of any business often boils down to the bottom line, it turns out that according to the U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth, women are more likely than men to run a business as a way to make a positive impact. And other research suggests that women are more likely than men to pursue social and/or environmental ventures rather than only economic-centered ventures.
Increased innovation – While it’s unfortunate that local investors in general often see women-led ventures as riskier, the truth is they’re often much more innovative. Margarita Hakobyan, founder of Solopreneurs, tells Inc. the reasons are varied:
“There are many different theories put forth, from women having access to different niches than men, to having a different societal role and therefore different needs than men, to simply having a different understanding of usefulness … It is clear that women entrepreneurs have a valuable and diverse perspective that will support the overall development of a robust global economy as we proceed farther into the 21st century.”
A boost to the local economy – We all know that a successful business is a shot in the arm for the community in which it resides, but it turns out that women do that better, too. According to Tory Burch, the entrepreneur behind the ultra-successful clothing and shoe line, women reinvest nearly 90% of their company’s earnings in their local community—that’s much higher than men, by the way.
Working for women
While the trend is going in the right direction, women entrepreneurs still often lack funding for their idea, mentorship from others, and even their own experience. Yet, it should be clear by now that all of us would benefit from a global effort to support women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses.
I would encourage other women out there to take advantage of the resources that exist, including incubators (both in-person and virtual), accelerators, online educational resources, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s SCORE grant program, and other small business development centers. Here in Kansas City, tap into women-focused organizations such as the Central Exchange and the Women’s Business Center. Even Visa recently launched a competition to boost women entrepreneurs while also creating positive social change.
The scales are beginning to balance out, but it will take all of us to keep things moving in the right direction. And if you’re lucky, someone will be regaling future generations about your company’s founder’s story (maybe even over some rice and Kikkoman soy sauce).
Angela Hurt is founder and CEO of Veracity Consulting, a tech consulting team of problem-solvers and truth-tellers who deliver customized IT solutions for commercial and government clients across the U.S. Learn more at veracityit.com, and share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter @engageveracity.