“Even today, studies show that only about three to four percent of women-owned businesses achieve one-million dollars or more in annual revenue,” says Jean Kristensen, owner, president and CEO of Jean Kristensen Associates, LLC. “And for businesses owned by women of color, the rate is even lower.” Businesses owned by men, on the other hand, are three times as likely to achieve that.
“Women face a lot of the same business challenges as men, like accessing capital and building clientele, but there are also still enormous expectations and pressure around our roles outside of work,” she explains. “Women are still the primary heads of households and caregivers, too.”
Helping women overcome disparities and leverage resources more effectively is a primary motivation behind Jean’s consulting business. Every day she works with women- and minority-owned businesses, as well as government agencies, to build bridges between government-contracting opportunities that are available and the businesses that can fulfill them.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we sat down with Jean to learn more about her business and the resources available to women-owned business in New York State.
Build on struggles and successes
Early on, Jean’s dream was to get a corporate job and work her way up to senior management. Still, despite a successful career in corporate marketing, she longed for more.
Jean didn’t have to look far to find what she desired.
“My parents started a security guard business in 1984 and I admired how they created jobs and impacted their community,” she reminisces. “I appreciated their struggles to make it all work and that really shifted my thinking about what was important to me. I wanted to be a part of that with them and, eventually, to do it on my own.”
Jean’s parents pursued certification as a minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE), and it was then that Jean had an “aha” moment. “Although my parents’ business received certification in the 1980s, there was no useful information about how to use it to grow your business.”
She continues, “I made it my mission to understand the processes and once we figured that out, my parents’ business really took off.”
Find a niche by helping other women
When it came time to open up her own business, Jean encountered challenges with navigating her way through the government-contracting process. To gain an advantage, Jean followed in her parents footsteps and pursued certification through the MWBE program.
Through her MWBE certification, Jean was provided with an array of funding and educational opportunities that helped make her business more competitive when bidding on government and corporate contracts.
She explains, “In the early 1990s, certification programs helped my family grow our security- guard firm from five employees to more than 500, with annual revenues in excess of $15 million.” Today, Jean continues to leverage her MWBE certification to bid on government agency contracts with great success.
Realizing the impact that certification has on minority and women owned businesses, Jean opened her small-business consulting firm to “provide tools and resources to small, minority- and women-owned businesses seeking to increase revenues though government contracts and innovative business strategies.”
“Government agencies have an enormous interest in doing business with MWBEs,” she explains. “But for small business owners, the processes for doing business with the government is often elusive, time-consuming or otherwise unattainable.”
In addition to helping businesses get certified and use their certifications to increase their revenues, Jean and her team also educate and train their clients on a variety of different business topics, including the benefits of discretionary contracts available to MWBE certified businesses.
“New York City agencies typically have discretionary funds up to $150,000 and New York State agencies have up to $200,000,” Jean explains. For many small businesses, particularly, women-owned businesses, those smaller contracts are much easier to access. “I’ve received many of these and they’ve helped me scale up my business and continue expanding.”
Despite the resources available to women and minority business owners, Jean explains that there’s still more work being done to help even the playing field. “Disparity studies show that minorities and women still aren’t sufficiently represented on the opportunity side,” Jean says. “To that end, though, both New York City and New York State have taken an aggressive approach. For example, Mayor DeBlasio has committed that $20 billion in government contracts will go to MWBEs by 2025, and it looks like they’re on track to achieve that goal. From my perspective, this is the best time for women and minorities.”
Seek an experienced and supportive lender
“Access to capital is a huge challenge. Without it, women-owned businesses can’t scale effectively and get access to larger contracts,” Jean says, speaking on her experience as both a consultant and a business owner.
“I was referred to EGF by my accountant,” she explains. “EGF understood my vision and the challenges that I faced, as well as the potential in my business. Getting the loan meant that I could take on another contract, and then my business snowballed and scaled up. They helped me access capital, which was critical, but they also gave me tremendous training and support. It made all the difference.”
Jean received a $50,000 EGF SmartLoanTM, which enabled her to cover the labor, equipment and technology costs that came with fulfilling two government contacts that her business had been awarded. She continues, “Once you have a solid financial foundation, your business is better positioned to compete for contracts because if you can’t show financial capacity, you won’t be competitive.”
“EGF has been a wonderful partner, with knowledgeable advisors and great online resources,” Jean says. “And although funding is critical, it becomes much more than simply a financial decision when you’re with the right lender. As an entrepreneur who is also a woman, it boosts your confidence to know that they see value in your work and believe in your mission.”
Be optimistic about women in business
“I’ve had some achievements that I’m very proud of, like participating in a pilot program to help MWBE businesses in the New York City area,” explains Jean.” They were awarded more than $25 million in contracts, and the economic ripple changes people’s lives and helps to bring up communities of people, as well as neighborhoods.”
“And maybe the most exciting thing is that I feel like the best is still to come for my business, and I hope that parlays into many more women entrepreneurs finding success, too.”