A new University of Northern Iowa report hopes to offer the first serious look at the women who do business in Iowa by providing insight into their experiences as entrepreneurs.


When conducting its annual small business survey, UNI added a gender lens to the study this year. In addition to its findings on the overall state of small business in Iowa, this year's report included an in-depth look at the experiences of women business owners.


Many of the report's conclusions will be familiar to Lift IOWA readers:

  •  Iowa ranks near or at the bottom of all U.S. states in numbers of women-owned businesses and business growth. According to the American Express Open annual survey, between 1997 and 2011, the number of woman-owned business starts in Iowa increased by only 20 percent, compared with a 50 percent nationwide increase. 
  • Iowa was the only state in the nation where overall sales revenue growth among existing woman-owned businesses was negative - by more than 3 percent - between 1997 and 2011.

However, the report highlighted many new findings about women-owned businesses in Iowa.

  • 79 percent of women-owned businesses reported sales of less than $250,000 annually. Conversely, only 6 percent of women-owned business reported annual sales of more than $1 million.
  • There are few women-owned businesses in Iowa that are more than 10 years old.
  • Woman-owned businesses in Iowa are clustered in the retail and professional services industry sectors, which are traditionally difficult to scale and exhibit slow annual growth.
  • There is a clear lack of women-owned Iowa businesses in industries associated with the 21st-century economy, such as technology and advanced or additive manufacturing.
  • Iowa women-owned businesses borrowed less capital from banks on average than their male counterparts in 2013, regardless of the business's size, age or industry.
  • Woman business owners turn most often to informal peer networks (family and friends who are business owners) for business advice or services, rather than to other resources offered in the state.
  • Male-owned businesses reported much greater need for help with critical business issues such as regulatory compliance, human resources, legal or accounting guidance. Women did not report the same need, and this is statistically related to the negative revenue growth patterns in the state among women-owned businesses.
  • In 2012 and 2013, Iowa women business owners were online more than male-owned business owners and used the Internet to seek funding, get advice and network.

The full report can be found here.


For more information about the survey, methodology or results, contact Maureen Collins-Williams at maureen.collins-williams@uni.edu, or Sarah Bey atsarah.bey@uni.edu.