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The SBA’s 2017 InnovateHER Challenge: How to Get in on the $70,000 Prize

Georgia McIntyre

Georgia McIntyre

Finance Writer at Fundera
Georgia McIntyre is the resident Finance Writer at Fundera. She specializes in all things small business finance, from lending to accounting. Questions for Georgia? Comment below!
Georgia McIntyre

The Small Business Administration has always been a champion of female entrepreneurship.

With its Women Business Centers, specific small business loans for women, the Office of Women’s Business Ownership, and countless other SBA resources for women, the government agency continues to empower female small business owners year after year.

Forging ahead on their mission, the SBA just launched the 2017 InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge earlier this week. Competitors have the chance to win $70,000 in prize money, provided to the SBA for the InnovateHER competition through a donation from the Sara Blakely Foundation.  

How can you get in on the challenge? Here’s what you need to know about 2017’s InnovateHER Business Challenge.

The Roots of the InnovateHER Challenge

The InnovateHER challenge was born out of a need to help female small business owners access the capital they need to grow their businesses.

Credit for female small business owners has been notoriously tight in years past—an unfortunate reality that doesn’t seem to reflect the fact that women represent half of the U.S. workforce and control 80% of the country’s purchasing power.

The small business funding bias for female entrepreneurs is real. If you need evidence of it, check out this eye-opening Harvard Business School study—the results show that after receiving identical pitches by a man and a woman, 32% of investors chose to fund the female entrepreneur, and 68% of investors chose to fund the male entrepreneur.

The gap in opportunity for female small business owners is alarmingly large—and growing. That’s why the SBA launched the first ever InnovateHER business challenge in 2015. The initiative sought to provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs to exhibit products and services that have a significant impact on women and families, have the potential to be commercialized, and fill a need in the marketplace.

How the InnovateHER Challenge Went Down in 2015 and 2016

Here’s how the InnovateHER business challenge has worked in the past:

Each participating entrepreneur pitches her business at a local competition. Universities, accelerators, SBA Resource Partners, Microsoft stores, and other local business organizations host these competitions, and submit a local winner to the SBA. The pool of local winners makes up the SBA’s Finalists, who then head to D.C. to compete in a live pitch challenge for the $70,000 prize money.

2015 InnovateHER Challenge Winners

Who came out on top in the inaugural 2015 InnovateHER challenge?

The prize money was divided to 3 inspiring and impressive female entrepreneurs:

  • First place, and $15,000 in prize money, went to Bethany Edwards from LIA Diagnostics—an eco-friendly and discreet pregnancy test that’s easy for women to use and understand.
  • Second place, and $10,000, went to Lisa Crites, creator of The Shower Shirt—a post-surgical, water-resistant garment meant to protect chest surgery patients.
  • Third place, and the remaining $5,000 in prizes, went to Sophia Berman of Trusst Lingerie—a product designed to eliminate the pain and discomfort of traditional lingerie products.

2016 InnovateHER Challenge Winners

In the second year of the InnovateHER challenge, the SBA upped the earnings to a $70,000 pool of prize earnings.

And in 2016, the InnovateHER challenge really caught its stride—over 248 organizations registered to host local competitions and 3,000 entrepreneurs engaged in the local, first-round competitions.

Of those 3,000, 3 female entrepreneurs won it all:

  • First place, and $40,000 in prize money, went to Elizabeth Caven, creator of UpCraft Club—a website for digital sewing patterns.
  • Second place, and $20,000 in cash, went to Dawn Dickson, creator of Flat Out of Heels—durable and foldable flat shoes that provide an option for women who wear heels on a day-to-day basis.
  • Third place, and the final $10,000 in prize money, was awarded to Dr. Agnes Scoville for Pacidose—a device that helps parents and doctors give children and infants medication doses.

What’s in Store for the 2017 InnovateHER Business Competition

The InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge will launch in the winter of 2017.

Expect to participate in local competitions hosted by universities, accelerators, scale-up communities, clusters, SBA resource centers and partners, and other economic development organizations. You can check out where your local competition host is with the SBA’s map of host locations. There are red pins all over it—so go find your nearest competition center now!

Entrepreneurs picked as winners in the local challenges will then move on to the semifinal round. From this pool of semifinalists, SBA officials will choose the 10 finalists who will be invited to D.C. to go for it all at the National InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge.

If you and your golden business idea are strong enough to make it to the finals, you’ll pitch your product or idea to a panel of experts and compete for a share of the $70,000 prize money. There’s no date set on the final round yet, but expect for the finals to roll around mid-2017. Check out the 2017 InnovateHER website for submission requirements and deadlines.

Remember, in this 2017 InnovateHER business challenge, the SBA is looking for business owners who are offering products and services that fill a need in their marketplace and have the potential for commercialization.

If you’re an entrepreneur who runs one of the many female-owned small business changing the U.S. economy and market for the better, there’s no reason not to participate in the InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge. You’ll get invaluable practice at pitching your business, and if it works out in the end, the much-deserved prize money is an added bonus.

Good luck, small business owner. We’ll be rooting for you!

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Georgia McIntyre

Georgia McIntyre

Finance Writer at Fundera
Georgia McIntyre is the resident Finance Writer at Fundera. She specializes in all things small business finance, from lending to accounting. Questions for Georgia? Comment below!
Georgia McIntyre

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