Starting a new business and getting it on a firm financial footing is a tough proposition for just about everyone. But for some, particularly minorities, women, and people living in economically depressed areas, the challenges can be especially difficult. Fortunately, a range of organizations, initiatives, and programs exist to help disadvantaged entrepreneurs get a leg up. Special incentives and programs include access to affordable loan financing, counseling and training, mentor programs, and special set-asides for federal contracts.
In addition, some states and local communities offer special tax treatment to businesses located in areas designated as enterprise zones in order to attract new businesses and to foster economic growth and employment there.
Women have historically faced many barriers to economic equality; women business owners are no different. Studies continue to show that women business owners have lower access to bank credit and other sources of financing than their male counterparts. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a number of programs to help women secure loans and get the training they need to successfully plan for, start, and grow their businesses.
The good news is that minority-owned businesses are on the rise. But in terms of their share of business ownership vs. their share of the overall U.S. population, minorities still have a lot of ground to cover to reach parity. As with women business owners, the SBA offers an array of business development assistance programs for minorities, including access to financing, mentor programs, and more. Other resources for minority business owners include the Minority Business Development Agency, and many state and local government initiatives, and nonprofit programs.
Enterprise zones are specially designated geographic areas in which certain government regulations are set aside and/or taxes are reduced or eliminated in order to encourage businesses to locate there – and jump-start economic growth and job creation. Various federal versions of enterprise zones have been called empowerment zones, renewal communities, and enterprise communities. Federal enterprise zone initiatives have been phased out in recent years as the federal government has struggled to balance its budget.