According to the Springboard Enterprises website, since 2000, 627 women-lead companies have raised $7.2 billion, created tens of thousands of new jobs and generated billions of dollars in annual revenues. Amy Millman has helped nurture a generation of women business leaders in her role as president of Springboard Enterprises and as the appointed executive director of the National Women’s Business Council during the Clinton administration. Amy was recently a panelist at the Global Entrepreneurship Export Exchange, where she mentioned EXIM Bank as a valuable resource for small businesses that want to grow globally. In this virtual interview, Amy talks about the progress women entrepreneurs have made in the last 20 years.
Interviewer: Springboard Enterprises was founded almost 20 years ago when female entrepreneurs had limited access to venture capital. How has the landscape changed and what are the biggest challenges facing women-led businesses today?
Amy: If a generation is considered to be 20 years, that’s how long it takes for behavioral and social change to take hold. That’s what the experience was of professional women in the workforce starting in the early 70s and reaching a crescendo of engagement in the 1990s. That’s about the time we began to see women moving up the ladder in corporations, graduating with law degrees and MBAs and moving into the business world in numbers amounting to a critical mass. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but what we’ve witnessed, and what has served as a catalyst for over the last 20 years, has been a change in the career path for women into entrepreneurship based on their acquired expertise. It’s an exciting time for those of us who work with and advocate for women entrepreneurs.
Interviewer: Have you seen a change in the types of businesses women are leading? Are you seeing that STEM education is having an influence on the types of start-ups women are founding?
Amy: When I was the executive director of the National Women’s Business Council, we did extensive research with the U.S. Census Bureau on the incidence and growth of women-owned and led businesses. While most businesses in the U.S. are services businesses and sole proprietorships, we could see then that more and more women were leading companies that were increasingly information and technology-based and that those businesses were growing at a fast pace. That was the foundation for the change along with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiatives, access to capital, research showing that women-run businesses are as creditworthy as their male run counterparts and even legislative initiatives like the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and setting goals and rules for women-owned federal contracting. The combination of these factors helped to catapult the fast paced growth of women-led businesses. All the women-led companies that Springboard sees are equity backed, fast growth and globally focused. With the infrastructure support in place by our government, the future is very bright for these companies.
Interviewer: 81-percent of Springboard start-up companies are still operating. That’s a phenomenal success rate! What is Springboard doing differently than VCs and how is Springboard helping these companies thrive?
Amy: When we launched Springboard in January 2000, we were only trying to open the capital markets for women-led businesses. In hindsight, we were actually filling the pipeline with companies that would disrupt the way we do business and with whom. Of the 627 women-led companies we’ve worked with, 12 are listed on public exchanges – Zipcar, Constant Contact, iRobot – while others are either in expansion mode or operating as engines of merged entities. We look for the talent and then engage all of our entrepreneurs in the process of helping our companies sustain and grow. It’s all about the network effect or as our Chairman Kay Koplovitz says, "success is about capital, HUMAN CAPITAL."
Interviewer: Our mission at EXIM Bank is to support American jobs by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services. Do you see small businesses thinking strategically about international markets early on?
Amy: First, we don’t see our businesses as small businesses but rather big businesses starting small. Springboard companies need to be globally focused from day one. They think virtually and operate globally.
Interviewer: How can EXIM Bank support women-led businesses?
Amy: A few years ago, we brought a large group of our companies to meet with Chairman Fred Hochberg and senior staff at EXIM Bank. Many of our businesses are software companies and they were unaware of the support that EXIM Bank providesservice companies with overseas transactions. It was an eye opener for most of them and as they grow and pursue new markets for their products, the support of EXIM Bank offers an attractive alternative to the process of raising venture investments to move into international markets, which often stalls the growth of these promising companies.
Interviewer: Thank you, Amy, for sharing your insights and for your on-going advocacy of women-led businesses. We look forward to seeing many more successful companies from Springboard Enterprises.