SBIR Pulse Interview #11: Advancing Technology Development + Women Entrepreneurship

Post Date:
March 01, 2016
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“Women small businesses have the power to influence change that impacts our families, our communities, our nation and our world.  I am grateful for the opportunity to work in an environment where I can help empower women on their road to success.” Erin Andrew

Meet Erin Andrew: SBA’s Assistant Administrator for Women’s Business Ownership 

The data from 2015 are clear – women entrepreneurship levels are at an all-time high. According to the National Women’s Business Council, women are starting around 1,200 new businesses each day. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program seeks to harness this momentum and increase the participation of women-owned companies in the SBIR program.  See this recent blog as one such example where SBIR is building capacity for women entrepreneurs in the area of education learning games.

To gain a better understanding of the resources the SBA offers to women entrepreneurs, SBIR Pulse is interviewing Erin Andrew, the assistant administrator for Office of Women’s Business Ownership at the U.S. Small Business Administration. She oversees the agency’s efforts to promote the growth of women-owned businesses through advocacy and programs that provide business training and counseling, access to credit and capital, and multiple business and networking opportunities. Andrew manages a nationwide network of SBA women's business centers that provide training, counseling and mentoring entrepreneurs. 

SBIR Pulse: What is your position at SBA? What is the mission of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership?

EA: As the assistant administrator for the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, my office oversees the agency’s efforts to promote the growth of women-owned businesses through advocacy and programs that provide business training and counseling, access to contracts and capital and multiple business and networking opportunities focused on innovation. We have three major areas of focus:

  1.    Overseeing the national network of over 100 women’s business centers that provide free and low cost counseling and training to women-owned businesses.
  2. Working with other SBA offices, including the Office of Investment and Innovation, where the SBIR program resides to support the engagement and inclusion of women-owned businesses, and by leveraging partnerships with national women’s business organizations.
  3. Engaging in public-private partnerships to empower and support more women entrepreneurs.

SBIR Pulse: What are the three main things you would like everyone to know about the Office of Women’s Business Ownership?

EA: There are 9.9 million women-owned businesses in the United States, an almost 28% increase over the past decade. The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership recognizes that entrepreneurs and small businesses are the engines of economic growth. Over the past two decades, women entrepreneurs have been critical to growing businesses and creating jobs. 

The SBA has an extensive support network of resource partners that provide business training and counseling, technical assistance, and resources and services that are designed with women entrepreneurs in mind. The network includes more than 100 Women’s Business Centers, over 900 Small Business Development Centers, and more than 300 chapters of SCORE. Through these resource partners, the SBA supported more than 2.5 million women entrepreneurs from January 2009 through September 2014.

The Women’s Business Centers operate with the mission to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs, and offer assistance to women nationwide, especially those who are economically or socially disadvantaged. Women can access comprehensive training and counseling on a wide range of topics, such as access to capital, marketing, federal contracting, international trade, financing assistance and manufacturing.

We also recognize the great strides that women entrepreneurs are making in the federal procurement marketplace. Last fiscal year, the SBA broke the record for contracts to Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB), nearing our five percent goal for government contracting. And for the first time, eligible women-owned businesses can bid for sole-source contracts. This is a great victory for women because now women-owned firms will have the same access as other underserved businesses in federal contracting.

SBIR Pulse: Can you tell us about InnovateHER?

EA: Every year, more and more women join the cluster of the world’s wealthiest: a record-breaking 197 women made it to Forbes’ Billionaires List in 2015, up from 172. Although women have continued to make great strides, they tend to underinvest their assets, and their financial power remains largely untapped.

The current investment ecosystem is not favorable to products and services tailored to women’s needs. Women investors understand the unique challenges facing working women today. With a more present voice in the investment space women can help better ensure companies respond to the diverse needs of everyone, including ensuring that women are given a shot.

To help meet that need, the SBA and the Office of Women’s Business Ownership announced the 2016 InnovateHER Business Challenge. Building on the successes of the SBA’s inaugural 2015 InnovateHER Business Challenge and since President Obama’s announcement during Demo Days last August, organizations throughout the United States held local competitions looking to unearth new and innovative products and services to empower women and their families. Contestants in these local competitions pitched their business ideas on a products or services that meet specific competition criteria.

In our second year, we have seen an increase in participation more than twofold with almost 200 local competitions across the country hosted by universities, accelerators, clusters, scale-up communities, SBA’s resource partners and other local community organizations.  Out of over 190 submissions, SBA has identified the Top 10 businesses that provide a platform of great products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, have the potential for commercialization, and fill a need in the marketplace.

SBIR Pulse: How does your office work with SBIR funded companies?

EA: We work nationally to raise awareness about the importance of more women entering the STEM fields, and our Women’s Business Centers support SBIR companies. Of the more than 22 thousand SBIR/STTR awards from fiscal years 2011-2014, the average award percentages to women-owned small businesses was approximately 13.5 percent, with an uptick of 13.88 percent WOSB representation in fiscal year 2014. The top three agencies by percentage of SBIR/STTR awards to WOSBs are the Department of Transportation (34.3 percent), the Department of Education (25 percent), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (17 percent). The top three states where these awards were provided are California, Alabama and Maryland.

Although we have seen an increase in the number of women-owned businesses in the SBIR/STTR programs, there is still room for more. Our office continues to identify opportunities to partner with organizations and enhance awareness around STEM education. The more women who enter STEM fields will only help increase the pipeline for those getting SBIR/STTR funding. Also, we want to work with agencies that support work place flexibility opportunities.

We will continue to engage the national women’s business organizations and identify opportunities where the SBA can work with women entrepreneurs as they access SBIR/STTR funding.

SBIR Pulse: Several women-owned companies participate in the SBIR/STTR programs, and we’re trying to increase these numbers even more. How can SBIR funded companies leverage the resources and services of your office?

EA: Women should connect with their local SBA district office, their Women’s Business Center, Small Business Development Center or SCORE Chapter.

SBIR Pulse: Anything else you would like to include?

EA: We have held several outreach events focused on women in STEM that have included many SBIR/STTR companies. Although some challenges still exist, we will continue to work to bring together creative ideas to support women’s efforts to push the limits, break the glass ceiling and create long-term, positive changes for women business owners.

This interview was produced by Betty Royster of the National Institutes of Health, Shannon Rhoten of the Small Business Administration, and Ed Metz of the U.S. Department of Education.

About SBIR Pulse

SBIR Pulse provides interviews with individuals from the different corners of the high-tech, start-up ecosystem. The intent is to share various perspectives on how SBIR impacts small businesses, drives innovation, and leads to technological solutions.


The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are collectively the largest single source of early-stage capital for innovative small companies in the United States. The federal government invests over $2 billion dollars in early stage and high growth American entrepreneurial firms to develop and commercialize technologies that strengthen our nation's defense, improve the health of our citizens, and enhance education. For more information, please visit, and follow us on Twitter (@SBIRgov)!

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