Iowa's economic development agency has taken on a private partner in an initiative to make the state a more conducive place for women to start businesses.


The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) announced late Tuesday that it has partnered with Ascent, a Cedar Rapids-based not-for-profit organization focused on creating an environment that will better support the viability of Iowa's women-owned businesses. The initiative is an effort to address Iowa's last-in-the-nation ranking for growth in women-owned businesses.


"Promoting the creation and growth of women-owned businesses has to be a priority on our agenda," Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a release. "It is part of building a comprehensive innovation economy that is essential to our future success."


As an initial step, Ascent has commenced a "Stand Up and Be Counted" movement to identify women-owned businesses in Iowa and connect them with resources. In conjunction with this effort, Ascent's pilot project will focus on working with women business owners to "better understand their needs, uncover patterns, build a more robust network and create an action plan with the goal of increasing the revenue and employment of existing women-owned businesses in Iowa," IEDA officials said in a release. The program will focus on women business owners who want their enterprises to grow and have a scalable business model.


Earlier this month, Ascent's president and CEO, Lydia Brown, joined IEDA Director Debi Durham and other area business leaders in a Power Breakfast panel discussion on the gender gap hosted by the Business Record.


"The room was packed, ideas were flowing and the crowd was engaged," Brown said. "It's great to see that we are gaining momentum and have a lot of powerful partners, like IEDA, to work with. We need to come together and encourage more business ownership among women in Iowa, and the 'Stand Up and Be Counted' movement is just the starting point."


To join "Stand Up and Be Counted," women business owners can register on Ascent's website at Organizations around the state can help promote "Stand Up and Be Counted" by placing the program's registration link and pin on their own sites. The Ascent registration link and pin can be found at