On course to empower women business owners

Our partnership with Cornell University expands, with a focus on women of color entrepreneurs

Women-owned businesses continue to help the U.S. economy grow at a healthy clip. They now employ 9.5 million people, generate $1.9 trillion in annual revenues and account for 40% of all United States businesses.foot note1 A notable bright spot has been with Black women’s entrepreneurship, which has more than doubled over the past decade.

Despite this progress, entrepreneurial-minded women face a myriad of cultural and structural obstacles, with Black and Hispanic-Latino women affected disproportionately. A recent study noted women entrepreneurs routinely experience exclusion from networking opportunities, barriers to funding and are underestimated and overlooked.

Skills-building to advance small businesses

To help women overcome such bias, Bank of America has committed to expanding its Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell to 50,000 participants, with a specific focus on women of color operating their own businesses, as it continues to deliver on its $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity. Since launching in 2018, the program which is offered at no-cost, has offered enrolleesfoot note2 courses focused on areas such as finances, product development and marketing, leadership, communications, and legal and compliance requirements, as well as opportunities to build professional networks. Registration is open to anyone worldwide, regardless of gender, educational background or business stage.

“With women bearing much of the economic brunt of the pandemic – and particularly women of color – our further investment in the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell has never felt more important,” said Anne Finucane, vice chairman at Bank of America. “Amid the unforeseen challenges and events this year, we must continue to invest in women entrepreneurs to drive economic growth. Because when women-owned businesses thrive, our communities flourish.”

Building confidence and finding belonging

For Fila Antwine, a recent graduate of the program, one of its most beneficial aspects was the sense of being a part of a community. “Women are often made to feel as though they aren’t suited to running a business,” she notes of her experience trying build her wellness and personal coaching business, Fila Antwine Coaching & Consulting. “The Cornell course shut that narrative down, completely. Sharing so many common experiences with other women in the course, I came out of it with a greater sense of confidence and belonging.”

Fila Antwine

Antwine notes that having access to industry professionals’ expertise and feedback, as well the ability to give and receive support and guidance from other participants, broadened the scope of her plans. A “solopreneur,” she’s now taking steps to grow her team in key support areas such as administration and customer service so she can provide coaching and advice at scale—a critical opportunity she’s identified as her customer base has moved online during the coronavirus.

Catalina Valencia’s experience during the program produced similar revelations and results. Her business, Terra Finder, helps companies identify and secure locations for their operations. Having worked for years in an industry that is disproportionately male, she wanted to start her own business—in no small part inspired by her father’s example to be an entrepreneur throughout his lifetime. Valencia found the program’s support and instruction to be instrumental in honing the fundamentals of Terra Finder: mission and vision, business development, financials and marketing. Personally, she found it was just as edifying. “Working with other women, I learned my challenges were not unique and overcoming bias was not unusual,” Valencia notes. “It was comforting, empowering and inspiring to learn from so many fellow women entrepreneurs.”

Women are often made to feel as though they aren’t suited to running a business. The Cornell Course shut that narrative down, completely.
Fila Antwine

Recognizing the importance community-focused organizations play in addressing some of society’s most pressing issues, Bank of America has partnered with leading civil rights organizations including the National Urban League, the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and Prospera to raise awareness among Black and Hispanic-Latino entrepreneurs. In addition to opening up the program to 30,000 more participants, Cornell is developing a Spanish language curriculum and is hiring Spanish-speaking teaching assistants in order to more effectively reach Hispanic-Latino entrepreneurs.

“We are extremely proud of the impact the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship is having on aspiring entrepreneurs,” says Cornell President Martha E. Pollack. “The Institute builds on Cornell’s commitment to the public good and on the strength of our faculty in providing practical, focused, accessible education.”

Bank of America’s investment in women as they make meaningful contributions within the company and in communities around the world includes a focus on being a great place to work for its female employees, improving the financial lives of female clients, and advancing the economic empowerment of women around the world. The company has several long-standing partnerships, through which it has helped more than 30,000 women from 85 countries grow their businesses.

The expansion of the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell is part of the bank’s $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity for Black and Hispanic-Latino communities. Learn more about the bank’s commitment’s to local nonprofits, small businesses, entrepreneurs and more.

While the coursework was designed with women entrepreneurs in mind, the online program is open to participants of any gender identity.