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Owning your own business is empowering, but it can also feel overwhelming especially at the onset. To celebrate and support female entrepreneurs and kick off Small Business Month, Mastercard partnered with Create & Cultivate for a conference held in New York on May 4, 2019, to help inspire, educate and help women pursue their entrepreneurial passions. The one-day, high-energy event attracted 1,500 women in various stages of business ownership. The packed schedule provided a valuable program of workshops, panels, mentor sessions, pop-up shops, photo booths and more. Women open businesses at a rate five times that of men, contributing more than $3 trillion to the U.S. economy. Mastercard's partnership in the event underscores its commitment to helping further their success.

Start With the Right Mindset

Cheryl Guerin, Mastercard's Executive Vice President of North America Marketing & Communications, led a panel called "Priceless Conversations: Meet the Women Making an Impact," which included advice from Piera Gelardi, co-founder of Refinery29, Jaclyn Johnson, founder and CEO of Create & Cultivate, Kelsea Gaynor, founder and creative director of East Oliva, Bliss Lau owner of Bliss Lau, and Breezy Dotson, designer and cofounder of Coco and Breezy Eyewear. Women who start a business often have a dream, and they're inspired by a greater calling, says Guerin. "Women are equally motivated by both purpose and profits and are willing to trade money today for long-term community impact," she says. "When you support women entrepreneurs, you're not only supporting the economy you are supporting their desire to solve real needs and make a difference in people's lives."

Finding the Funding

Great ideas need money to grow. Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, navigated the topics of venture capital, negotiation and bootstrapping your business in a panel called "Raise Up." It's clear most female entrepreneurs start their business with personal funds and money from friends and family. "Going outside that circle is intimidating for any business owner," says Siegel. "The hard reality is that just two percent of venture funding goes to women. Women in the audience were also experiencing difficulty [finding] funding from angel investors and banks [but] didn't realize it was a problem overall. I wanted them to know you are not alone. This isn't about you personally or about issues in your business. The problem is across the board." Female founders must surround themselves with the right advisors who can fill gaps, Siegel adds. "Make sure your business plan is spotless," she says. "lf you don't know how to write one, there are resources to help."

Mastercard's Commitment

Mastercard unveiled several ongoing initiatives to help not only the women who attended Create & Cultivate, but female entrepreneurs as a whole. "Research shows that when we remove the obstacles for female business owners, their impact on society, on communities and on economies is priceless," says Guerin. "This is why we're not just making a commitment to this segment; we're taking action by providing the insights, solutions and resources they need to thrive as business owners." Mastercard's Her Ideas: Start Something Priceless campaign was launched to celebrate women entrepreneurs and their businesses. It spotlights female business owners and shares their journeys, from formulating ideas to founding businesses and the impact they have on their community. "What I love about this campaign is that every small business starts with an idea," says Siegel. "It is so encouraging to see these ideas grow, to see the passion that surrounds making these ideas a reality for female founders. It's the ideas and the passion that surrounds them that make female founders so valuable. " The Mastercard Women's Business Advisory Council brings together the perspectives and experience of successful female founders to share their knowledge beyond the conference through mentorship and guidance. "These women are very successful and have been through tough times building their business, just like every business owner," says Siegel. "They can provide excellent advice and guidance around the journey." The Advisory Council is focused on helping to ensure the solutions Mastercard brings to market continue to meet the needs of the segment with learnings from their own unique journeys and challenges. "Female entrepreneurs can turn to the advisory council to co-ideate, to get opinions, to build solutions, to get perspectives on what you need," says Siegel. "This is about pulling up. Having role models and people out there saying, 'It's okay; we had trouble, too. I knocked on a hundred doors before one was opened.'" Mastercard also recently announced a new small business program across Mastercard Business and World Elite offerings that provide entrepreneurs a number of digital resources that owners need to run their businesses successfully and seamlessly. "Eighty percent of small-business owners have no protection against cyberattacks, and if you talk to cyber experts, you'll learn that attacks on small businesses are growing rapidly," says Siegel. "Cyber/ID theft protection is just one of the areas where the business Mastercard can help. We provide tools to business owners to monitor the dark web for business URL's and up to 50 business email addresses, and if ever faced with a breach we will have a resolution service." The Mastercard small business benefits also include a 24/7 business assistant. "Eighty percent of small businesses have one or no employees. They wear many hats and are good problem solvers," says Siegel. "To provide extra support, the business assistant can help with day to day needs, such as finding a place to fix your technology devices or locating an office if you live in New York City and are having a meeting in San Francisco." Other benefits for small business cardholders include discounts on Intuit products, such as QuickBooks and TurboTax, as well as cell phone insurance. "It's our goal to [fulfill] as many needs as possible with the tools, resources and mentorship this segment deserves, and inspire others to do the same," says Guerin. "Create & Cultivate was a rare opportunity to sit in front of so many female founders," says Siegel. "Talking one on one with business owners helps us build better solutions and ensures that we are going down the right path. Female entrepreneurs have different needs and struggles. If we can lift them up, they'll grow faster. If we help them, we help the economy. The best part of what we do every day is develop and innovate solutions that will help them run and grow their business."  

About Author

Stephanie Vozza is an experienced writer who specializes in small business, finance, HR and retail. She has been a regular columnist for Fast Company for more than four years and her work frequently appears in Inc., Entrepreneur and Parade.