Building Inclusive Ecosystems

Building Inclusive Ecosystems with Intentionality: A Strategy to Enhance Support for D.C.’s Women Founders

BEACON: The D.C. Women Founders Initiative

First published April 2018

This report examines opportunities to further enhance inclusion and support of current and future women founders in Washington, D.C.’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Its analysis provides an overview of women-owned businesses both nationally and in Washington, D.C., makes four top-level recommendations with pragmatic strategies for implementation, and highlights existing approaches to inclusive development.

Despite national trends in declining rates of entrepreneurship, the number of women-owned businesses in Washington, D.C. is on the rise. This is particularly true among minority founders. The D.C.-metro region (including Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia) has the eighth highest number of women-owned firms out of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S. The District, specifically, has been deemed a “hotspot” for women entrepreneurs by various publications. Despite these accolades, however, D.C. scores less favorably than Maryland and Virginia in terms of the number of women-owned businesses, their revenues, job creation, and overall economic clout. Though D.C. exhibits activity across all seven ecosystem domains: market access, capital, community building, policy, resources, human capital and innovation, its full potential is impeded by the degree of (1) siloed operations, (2) a lack of coordination among resource providers, and (3) racial and ethnic disparities that exacerbate obstacles to resources and opportunities.

The following report surveys elements of Washington, D.C.’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and offers recommendations to increase access and opportunities for women founders, small business owners, and aspiring entrepreneurs. It also posits opportunities for strategic partnerships to enhance resource-based support, as well as policy changes that should catalyze an increase in the number of sustainable and scalable women-owned businesses headquartered in Washington, D.C.

While grounded in an entrepreneurial ecosystem analysis that includes an overview of women-owned businesses in D.C. and mechanisms of support across seven domains (market access, capital, community building, policy, resources, human capital, and innovation), this report is intended to stimulate ideas and highlight approaches that could be deployed in other cities to support both new business creation and sustained business growth for underrepresented founders.


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