These are promising times for female entrepreneurs. According to the 2022 Annual Report from the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC), the number of women-owned businesses with employees grew 16.7% between 2012 and 2019. The most recent year data are available. That rate is more than triple the growth reported by men-owned firms (5.2%) over the same period.
Gross receipts for women-owned employer businesses rose 51.9% between 2012 and 2019 vs. a growth rate of 34.2% for men. Women-owned firms employed 10.8 million workers in 2019 and grew their workforce by 28% between 2012 and 2019 – more than double the rate of men-owned firms (10.8%).
Even so, there are still gaps between female and male entrepreneurs in getting their businesses off the ground. In 2021, women started 40% of businesses compared with 60% created by men, according to the Score.org website. One reason for the ongoing discrepancy is that women have more difficulty accessing capital.
To help address the financing gap, Mars-owned DOVE Chocolate announced its second year of DOVE InstaGrants, a program designed to empower women entrepreneurs by giving them a chance to win one of three $10,000 grants.
The second installment of the program, which took place in December 2022, provided women across the U.S. an opportunity to pitch a new business idea or established small business concept for a chance to win a grant and additional operational support.
Winners of the 2022 program, announced this year, include Isabel Last of Faena, an immersive language-teaching video game; Jillian Anderson of HERide, a rideshare app made for women by women to provide reliable peer-to-peer transportation; and Kiera Gardner and Margo Newkirk of Blend of Soul, a cold-pressed juice company encouraging healthier lifestyles with sustainably made products.
In an interview with Forbes, Gardner, and Newkirk said they applied for DOVE InstaGrants because Blend of Soul faced a “challenging pathway” to financing as a Black-owned, women-led business.
“Creating access to capital, networking opportunities, and mentorships for our community and small business owners would bridge the equity gap and promote diversity,” they said.
This year, DOVE is helping its 2021 and 2022 winners with more than just financial support. The company also is providing strategic business promotion by leveraging DOVE’s platform.
“We know that women are far less likely to receive funding than men, so our goal was to get these ground-breaking businesses additional visibility to … encourage business support and funding among two groups: venture capitalists and the public,” Martin Terwilliger, Senior Director of Marketing at Mars Wrigley, told Forbes.
To that end, DOVE partnered with the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to showcase the winning businesses. Nearly half (47%) of Indiegogo campaigns that exceed their crowdfunding goals are run by women, and about 10 million people worldwide visit the site each month, giving businesses exposure to a huge number of potential investors.
DOVE also aimed to put women entrepreneurs in touch with VC firms using a “guerilla-style” approach.
“We leveraged cutting-edge technology to develop holograms of each winner giving their business pitches,” Terwilliger said. “The holograms were featured on QR codes in DOVE Chocolate gift baskets, which, when scanned, put our entrepreneurs in the room with the firms. Lastly, we are leveraging our social platforms to excite and inspire fans to support these companies.”
The grant program builds on DOVE Chocolate’s long-standing partnership with CARE, an international humanitarian agency. That partnership’s mission is to empower women in West African cocoa-growing communities by helping them build financial literacy and develop their small businesses. The DOVE InstaGrants program aims to bring this mission to the United States.
Previous DOVE InstaGrant winners included Lehia Apana of Polipoli Farms, a native-run farm using indigenous and modern growing practices in regenerative agroforests; Brittany Rhodes of Black Girl Mathgic, a subscription box designed to increase math confidence and decrease math anxiety in girls; and Shreya Nuli of Mobile Memory, a cost-effective screening tool that utilizes AI/ML to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s from vocal biomarkers.