Tory Burch is Offering Big Money to Women Business Owners

November 18, 2015, 9:06 PM UTC
Tory Burch
Agency Neil Harris
Photograph by D Dipasupil—Getty Images


Tory Burch wants female entrepreneurs to embrace ambition and grow their businesses. And she’s offering more than just words of encouragement: Her foundation will provide one lucky business owner $100,000.

Wednesday, as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Tory Burch Foundation announced its new fellowship program, focused on helping existing businesses grow. Applications will be accepted through Jan. 12, 2016. Thirty semi-finalists will be vetted and then public voting will be open to help choose ten fellows whose businesses show promise. The 10 chosen businesses will each receive:

  • A $10,000 education grant
  • An assigned mentor and one year of mentoring, networking and business guidance from the Tory Burch Foundation
  • A three-day trip Tory Burch’s New York City headquarters to participate in a pitch competition

From the 10 fellows, one will be chosen to receive $100,000 in “grant investment.” The investment will be distributed as a $50,000 grant and a $50,000 recoverable grant, to be paid back with zero interest within a timeline to be determined.

To qualify, companies must be five years old or younger and have annual revenues of no more than $500,000 per year. Also, the company must be at least 51% female owned.

Growing women’s businesses

This isn’t a competition for businesses that are still in the idea stage, Burch tells Fortune. And while you don’t have to be the next Facebook, says Burch, entries will be rewarded for scalability.

Growth potential is a particular issue for women’s businesses. According to a 2015 American Express report, women-owned firms make up 30% of all enterprises and are growing faster in number and employment than other sectors, yet women-owned firms employ just 6% of U.S. workers.

Burch says she hopes that her foundation will help create a community where female entrepreneurs can share their experiences and help one another with business challenges—including issues of scalability. “Even if you’re in very different businesses, you’re probably facing the same types of challenges,” she says.

Giving back

Social responsibility is also a focus for Burch and will make up 20% of evaluation criteria. She was raised in a household that literally lived its philanthropy. “When I came home, I was never quite sure who would be living with us, because my parents took in so many people,” she laughs.

She hopes to encourage companies to integrate their social responsibility from the start, rather than waiting until they’re well established. Burch says her company’s social commitment has helped with employee recruitment and retention and also has appeal for customers, “which are bottom-line benefits I never thought of when we started,” she says.

Burch says it was part of the Tory Burch business plan from the start to help give women entrepreneurs access to mentoring, networking, and money, which is why she launched the foundation in 2009. Through partnerships with Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, the foundation has beefed up its ability to help women get business education and access to capital. Burch says the Bank of America affiliation has helped facilitate more than $10 million in financing to women-owned businesses through its community lender program. In 2016, Burch expects that to grow to $1 million per month. Altogether, the foundation has helped more than 600 women-owned businesses through its capital program with Bank of America as well as education and networking programs.

Sowing seeds of success

The foundation is funded through a variety of revenue streams, including donations and a store. For the 2015 holiday season, Burch and the foundation created the Seed Box, which includes six products by women-owned companies. All Seed Box proceeds benefit the Tory Burch Foundation to further develop its programs to help women entrepreneurs succeed.

And it seems like Burch takes that success seriously. Her voice gets more animated when she discusses women and ambition and the possibilities that lie in helping women gain more access to education, mentors and capital.

“Why is it okay for men to be ambitious and that’s a great thing, but when women are ambitious, it’s a negative,” she says. “Putting yourself out there was a challenge for me. How do you help women get have the confidence to believe in themselves—that if you work tremendously hard and have an idea that’s viable, great things can happen?,” she says. “That’s part of what we want to do.”

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