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Initiative to help women business owners get government contracts

The Small Business Administration has teamed with American Express OPEN and Women Impacting Public Policy to launch a national initiative aimed at boosting government contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses. Representatives of the three participating organizations unveiled the program, dubbed ChallengeHER, at a luncheon for women business owners in Washington this week.

ChallengeHER will help women business owners compete in the government contracting marketplace by providing  online curriculum and resources, mentoring with experienced women contractors, and access to government buyers and prime contractors. A series of 9 free events and workshops to take place around the country will kick off on May 23 with a Department of Energy event.

SBA Administrator Karen Mills said one of the agency’s top priorities is making sure that more qualified women-owned, veteran-owned, and minority-owned small businesses have access to government and commercial supply chain opportunities. “Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest-growing segments of new businesses in our economy, and the ChallengeHER initiative will help connect these entrepreneurs with the tools and contracting opportunities they need to grow, drive innovation and create jobs.”

Marie Johns, SBA’s deputy administrator, said in a statement that the agency will be playing “matchmaker” at the events, “connecting women-owned small businesses with the decision-makers and contract opportunities housed by our federal partners, both at the national level and in their local communities.” Expanding the family of women-owned small businesses will give government contracting officers a broader base to consider when making purchasing decisions, she said.

Johns added, “We’ll also be training women-owned small businesses on how to register in our System for Award Management, which serves as our government contracting portal for all small business owners that want to do business with the federal government, and learn about eligibility requirements for the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, which allows contract set asides for women-owned small businesses in certain industries.”

The initiative follows on President Obama’s signing into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which removed existing $4 million and $6.5 million caps on eligible federal contract awards under the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting program.

“The removal of the caps is good news not just for women business owners, but also for government agencies aiming to boost their procurement to women-owned small businesses,” said Barbara Kasoff, president of WIPP, an advocate for the nation’s nearly 1 million women-owned businesses representing 68 business organizations. “With the improvements to the WOSB program and our new partnership with the SBA and American Express OPEN, 2013 is the year for women contractors.”

American Express OPEN President Susan Sobbott said, “Participation in federal contracting can be a lucrative revenue booster and a way for women entrepreneurs to create a high-growth business.” She said American Express OPEN research finds that 42 percent of women-owned small business contractors generate revenues in excess of $1 million. “With ChallengeHER, we are calling all women entrepreneurs to get out there, offer new innovative ideas and products to government agencies and push their annual revenues past the million-dollar mark.”

After the May 23 event in Washington, additional ChallengeHER events will take place in Phoenix on June 12; Seattle on June 17, Denver on July 16. Dates have yet to be announced for events at the Department of Health and Human Services, and in New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York.  For more information sign up for SBA updates online.

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