On Friday March 11, 2011, I attended the Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium in honor of Women’s History Month at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The program was co-sponsored by the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce and focused on women entrepreneurs, the importance of intellectual property protection for their innovations, how to leverage economic opportunities for women-owned businesses and what resources are available exclusively for women-owned small businesses. The topics discussed focused solely on American business.
The program featured U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana who is chair of the Senate’s Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship as the symposium’s keynote speaker. Additionally the program include newly-appointed Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Teresa (Terry) Stanek Rea, Deputy Commissioner for Patents at the USPTO Peggy Focarino, Commissioner for Trademarks at the USPTO Deborah Cohn, Director of President Obama’s National Export Initiative Courtney Gregoire, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC) Margot Dorfman and the District Director of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Bridget Bean as well as successful entrepreneurs and other experts in the field of intellectual property law.
In a press release prior to the program, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos had this to say,
Women-owned businesses make a significant impact on the U.S. economy and more attention needs to be given to identifying opportunities that support and encourage women to become entrepreneurs and innovators.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), 7.8 million firms were owned by women in 2007, accounting for almost 30 percent of all non-farm, privately held U.S. firms. Women-owned firms generated $1.2 trillion in revenue and employed 7.6 million paid workers that year alone.
During her welcome remarks, Terry Stanek Rae reiterated this fact stating that,
In an increasingly globalized world, innovation has become the premiere, sustainable source of competitive advantage for our businesses to flourish. Not only can a novel idea spark a human willingness to explore, but also it can move the pulse of an industry and transform the welfare of a society.
That means that the women in this room are not just in the Intellectual Property or technology business; we’re in the economic development business, the growth business and the jobs business.
Even though women have made a bigger impact on our nations economic development, there are still significant gaps. Out of the 190 heads of states across the world, only 9 are women, making up only 13% of all the world’s parliamentary systems. In addition, women serve as top executives of only 15-16% across all major business. Even in the non-profit world, where one would assume that women make up the majority, still only 20% of all non-profits have women in the top Executive Director positions.
She also had the following additional statistics to share with us, which I felt were too significant not to share.
A recent report prepared by White House Council on Women & Girls notes that in the last few years women earned about 57% of all college degrees, but less than half of those degrees were in math, and physical sciences; and even fewer were in computer science and engineering.
More and more women are entering the work force and in some areas actually exceed the numbers of their male counterparts, but high-tech female entrepreneurs still raise significantly smaller amounts of financial capital for start up’s than men. Across the past 4 recessions, there has been less unemployment among women, and that is good, but on average they still earn only about 76% of what men do.
During our lunch break, after a phenomenal introduction by David Kappos, we had the pleasure of hearing U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana speak to us on the topic of small businesses and women entrepreneurs. She started first by acknowledging the victims of Japan’s Tsunami disaster. She then continued with a funny personal story of how as a 40 year old mom entering the Senate, she was having her hair done in the Senate Salon with a head full of foil, when her husband came in the salon to tell her that they got the call that the adoption of her second child had gone through. She leapt from the chair pulling the foil out as fast as she could to run out the door. The story was funny but showed us that she was personable and knew what it was like to be a working mom, stating that as working-women we do not congratulate ourselves enough for being able to manage the stress of life and work.
Senator Landrieu stated that Women’s History Month is not just about celebrating professional accomplishments but actually celebrating that we can do be both professionals and moms and caregivers and do it all pretty well. She also spoke of Ida B Wells who most know as an African American woman as an owner of a newspaper with her husband reported on the many lynching’s that were occurring throughout the United States. But what most people don’t know is that she did this while raising 7 children.
She stated that she was very excited that during her committee role, the committee succeeded in passing a Bill on Small Business Research,
The Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR), which was created 25-29 years ago by Senator Rudman. This is the Federal governments largest amount of money set aside for research and development that is to be spent through small businesses to encourage small businesses to create the next great product, the next great service, the next great software and technology, recognizing that it is not just big businesses, but in fact is mostly in many instances the small business, not the large already established businesses that have the cutting edge technologies. And that the Federal Government was looking in the wrong places for some of this cutting edge technology, not believing that small business right down the street in a little apartment or on top of a store might have exactly what the defense department was looking for, NIH, etc.
This program has been funded by the Federal Government as part of our research and development budget and consists of 2.5 to 3% of all of our research budgets in our 13 agencies that need to go to small businesses with a 100,000 grant to fund your business in phase one, and if you graduate from that there is a million grant available in phase 2. She discussed the story of Qualcomm, which started out as a small business and benefitted from the research and development grant in its earlier stages. This company, which is an example of what this program can support, now pays more in Federal taxes; this one company pays about a billion dollars of state, federal and local taxes per year which is half of what this federal program costs every year. That’s one success story. If we had two like that it would pay for the whole program!
So even in cost cutting times like this, when people are yelling for the government to cut back, I say, as the chair, this is not a program to cut back on. This is a program to expand and support and to give the federal government access to some of the best technologies with some of the small, innovative, growing companies in America, many of them are women many of them are minority and many are majority companies as well.
After lunch, the program continued with additional speakers on other topics pertaining to the Global Marketplace including protecting your intellectual property assets, developing and leveraging business relationships and driving growth.
Following the closing of the Symposium, I asked Terry if she would be willing to give me her thoughts on the impact women in small business have here in the US. She said;
Women own nearly one third of privately held firms in the United States, so success of women-owned businesses is vital to U.S. economic growth and competitiveness. The USPTO clearly has a role to play in helping these women turn their ideas into successful businesses, and I hope today’s event will be the first of many outreach initiatives we offer to address the specific needs and challenges of today’s innovative, entrepreneurial women.
Congratulations to the USPTO and the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce for a wonderful and inspiring event.