By Valentina Zarya
March 24, 2017

Contrary to what much of the media would have you believe, not every startup has to be a unicorn, and not every startup needs venture capital funding.

A panel of female small business owners spoke about what it’s really like to start and run a small business during an event marking the launch of New York City’s new Contract Financing Loan Fund on Thursday. The new $10 million fund allows minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs) to apply for loans of up to half a million dollars at a maximum interest rate of 3% and is one of the ways the city is planning to meet its goal of awarding 30% of city contracts to minorities and women by 2021.

In order to be considered for contracts, M/WBEs must be certified by the city. That process can seem like a black box for entrepreneurs—particularly first-timers or sole proprietors (90% of women business owners have no employees other than the owner). The speakers included: Elizabeth Velez, president of construction firm Velez Organization; Jean Kristensen, a small business and MWBE growth specialist; textile designer Malene B.; and Ellie Kassner, president of miscellaneous metal subcontracting company W.H. Kassner, Inc. The panelists, who are currently M/WBE certified and work in both the public and private sectors, offered advice for women in the process of launching a small business.

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  1. Certification is key. While the panel focused on New York City, there are city, state, and federal certifications that women can apply for. And it’s not just about directly bidding on government contracts. You never know when a client of yours will go after a public project—and when they do, they’ll want to sub-contract with an M/WBE. As for the process itself? Think of it the way you do taxes: Once your paperwork is together, it’s just filling in boxes.
  2. Don’t go it alone. Because so many women are sole proprietors (and typically have fewer employees than men) they have a tendency to pass on opportunities that seem too daunting. Instead, panelists recommended finding other women to partner with—whether that means dividing and conquering large projects or bartering services.
  3. Hustle hard. A certification is certainly helpful (one panelist called it a “golden ticket”), but it alone will not win you a clientele. The only way to go about that is by putting yourself out there and going to industry events and meet-ups of all sizes. To paraphrase one panelist, you’re the one thing you’ve got—so use you.

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