Women-owned businesses are among the fastest growing in the country — especially in South Dakota. However, a new congressional report found women only get four percent of all small business loans.
Sanaa Abourezk has a master's degree in nutrition and has trained under famous European chefs so when she had an idea to open her own Mediterranean restaurant nearly 11 years ago, she didn't think it would be difficult to borrow the money.
"I thought, 'Oh, I have this wonderful idea. People will just run to give me a loan,'" Abourezk said.
Abourezk quickly discovered that wasn’t the case. She finally did get a loan, but she had to put everything she owned as collateral and that's not all.
"And that's the most upsetting, my husband had to co-sign. I'm not equal with the man in their mind, so my husband had to co-sign the loan," Abourezk said.
Abourezk expected a different outcome when she went in for a second loan to expand her business. She'd paid off her loan early and made a profit every year, but that didn't seem to matter to the banks.
"I tried every single bank in town until I found the one that gave me (the loan). But I did apply to all of them," Abourezk said. And still, her husband had to co-sign.
"I proved myself. It's my sweat. It's my hard work; not my husband's," Abourezk said.
And it's not just business loans. Twenty years ago, the federal government set a goal of giving women-owned businesses five percent of government contracts; it's never met that goal. And women lose out on some $4 billion a year because of it.
"So we'd like to help open those doors--provide the necessary referrals to our SBA partners who might be able to help with that," Director Helen Merriman said.
The only women's business center in South Dakota, The Center for Enterprise Opportunity, is trying to help women get government contracts and loans.
"Most businesses fail in that first three to seven years without a lot of planning. Everybody's passionate about what they want to do. But that passion needs to be converted into really a strategic plan," Merriman said.
A good business plan is one key to getting a small business loan, but as Abourezk will tell you, it also takes not giving up when banks turn you down.
"You have to have an extremely strong business plan. Be confident and you have to believe in your business--whatever you're doing and just go after it, over and over," Abourezk said.
It's that determination that has led Abourezk to not only a successful restaurant, but three cookbooks, a product line in stores and future plans to franchise her business.
The Center for Enterprise Opportunity is holding its first Women's Business Conference on the eastern side of the state Friday, September 12 to help women start and grow their businesses.
Yankton Women's Business Conference: September 12
Deadwood Women's Business Conference: October 24