A person smiling at the camera

The support women entrepreneurs need to flourish

Female-led businesses are growing fast but still face stiff headwinds getting off the ground. A new fund helps make it easier.

Women entrepreneurs are starting companies at twice the rate of the overall growth of small businesses,footnote1 and women-owned firms now account for more than four in 10 businesses in the U.S., employing millions and bringing in trillions in annual revenue.footnote2 Still, female entrepreneurs face stiff headwinds, with Black and Hispanic-Latino women disproportionately challenged.

To help female entrepreneurs overcome stubborn barriers to success, the private sector is increasingly looking for ways to provide education, outreach, funding and more. For example, Bank of America increased its commitment to the microlender Kiva, which assists women entrepreneurs from over 70 countries. Kiva’s mission is to expand financial access to underserved communities, and since 2005 the nonprofit has enabled 4 million borrowers worldwide — four out of five of them women — to land small, crowd-funded loans worth a total of $1.6 billion. In an effort to direct more capital to U.S.-based Black and Hispanic-Latino entrepreneurs, Kiva and Bank of America have launched a new Bank of America Loan Fund for Women Entrepreneurs at Kiva, funded by a $1 million commitment from the bank, which matches Kiva loans dollar for dollar. The support for this program is part of the bank’s $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity.

Making pet care affordable

One of the beneficiaries of the Bank of America Loan Fund for Women Entrepreneurs is Breona Baines, a 27-year-old founder and CEO of Kitticcino Charities, a nonprofit dedicated to providing low-cost veterinary services to underserved communities in Columbus, Ohio, and beyond. A veterinary technician who has worked in the field for 11 years, Baines became alarmed with the high cost of pet care. “I didn’t like being in a position where I had to explain to someone that it is more economically sound for you to euthanize your animal than it is to provide the care that will most likely save its life,” says Baines. So in the fall of 2020, Baines launched Kitticcino Charities with a mission to provide low-cost care, education and outreach, and animal rescues.

Baines’s plan was to start slowly by offering vaccines at pop-up sites, but she was met with a surge of demand for affordable pet care. Fortunately, she has a strong network. As the only full-time employee, she relies on part-time veterinarians, including from a local veterinary school, and an army of volunteers, enabling Kitticcino to expand to low-cost spaying and neutering, routine care and animal rescues as well.

Dog days of start up

In her first stab at entrepreneurship, Baines found getting her nonprofit off the ground a challenge. After using her own savings to launch, Baines struggled to qualify for a traditional bank loan or other funding (as a nonprofit, Kitticcino also accepts donations). The only loan she managed to secure charged too high an interest rate for her to afford it. “It was absolutely frustrating,” Baines says.

“I’m a woman and Black — a double whammy — and I was only 26 when I officially founded Kitticcino. There were just so many factors against me.”

It was the most empowering thing watching strangers from around the world backing my cause.
Breona Baines  |  CEO and founder, Kitticcino Charities

To pay for surgical and lab equipment, Baines applied for an $8,000 loan from Kiva, which she heard about from a local college’s business development office. “Once my funding request went live, I cried,” she says. “It was the most empowering thing watching strangers from around the world backing my cause.” The funds have allowed her to purchase equipment, and donations came in as well, including a surgery table from a former employer.

Kitticcino will move into a new space in a low-income neighborhood on the south side of Columbus during summer 2021. Baines is also rebranding the organization as COPAW, short for Central Ohio’s Program for Animal Welfare, a name that captures all the different services it offers. Kitticcino will remain the name of the cat café she hopes to open soon, where adoptable cats can roam free. The guiding philosophy that drove her to create her enterprise remains the same. “Pricing people out of care isn't going to prevent them from getting animals,” says Baines. “It's just going to prevent them from being able to adequately care for them.”

Support for Kiva is one part of Bank of America’s commitment to helping women and minorities get access to the resources needed to start successful long-term careers. Additionally, funding for the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell University will help a program focused on women, particularly those from Black and Hispanic-Latino communities, grow from 20,000 to 50,000 participants. Participants will receive professional development training, career support and more. Learn more about the bank’s focus on skills development, professional training and providing access to resources for women, underrepresented communities, at-risk youth and more as a pathway to long-term success.