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Updated: March 27th, 2020
Home to many of Silicon Valley’s finest, it only makes sense that San Francisco is a hub for women entrepreneurs—40,135, to be exact. According to a 2019 report from Dell, the Bay Area ranks as the BEST city overall for its “ability to attract and foster the growth of women-owned firms”. Pretty impressive.
Yet, the City by the Bay still has plenty of room for improvement—especially when it comes to cultivating a culture in which women entrepreneurs can succeed. To help current and aspiring women entrepreneurs and business owners in San Francisco, here is a list of useful resources.
A non-profit focused on nurturing women entering high-tech industries and building startups, Girls in Tech has headquarters in San Francisco and offers a wide variety of programs, including coding and entrepreneurship boot camps, hackathons, and networking/co-working events. Some events are free and others require an investment in materials (e.g. a $20 fee to access course content during an HTML & CSS Bootcamp).
Since its inception in 1999 and in partnership with the local SBA district office, the Women’s Business Center at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center has served over 10,000 women entrepreneurs through its programs and services which include business training, workshops, the Financing Resource Center and networking events. Besides its acceleration program, the Bayview location in the India Basin neighborhood offers shared office space, coaching, advising, and networking opportunities.
The San Francisco SBDC offers free one-on-one business counseling and series of workshops customized to help female entrepreneurs succeed in the local marketplace and learn more about submitting bids for government contracts.
SCORE San Francisco is an essential resource for bootstrapping female entrepreneurs who are putting every cent into their businesses because this organization offers experienced business mentors at no charge in a wide variety of topics, including accounting, store design and layout, and supply chain management. SCORE San Francisco also offers low-cost workshops on a rolling basis. Make sure to check them out!
Located on Market Street, this SBA office runs several events throughout the year geared towards women entrepreneurs. For example, on January 5, 2017, it ran a free, three-hour seminar on starting and managing a business and on January 10, 2017, it ran one on becoming certified for the HUBZone and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) programs. Most events are free but require registration in advance.
While this PTAC branch is about 90 miles away from San Francisco, it’s still one of the closest to the city. And the closest way to get started to receive the necessary counseling and training to start selling your products or services to federal, state, and local governments. Since 2012, this PTAC’s Women’s Business Center has been helping women to qualify for government contracts that are set aside for underrepresented women-owned small businesses. Most PTAC services are available free of charge and some have a nominal cost, such as the loan guarantee program.
Double Union is a women-focused community workshop space for a wide variety of projects, including sewing, programming, electronics, woodworking, and zine making. To keep the focus on a great space for women, Double Union welcomes all members who identify themselves as women in a way that’s significant to them and encourages members to bring supervised children to space.
With two locations (one in San Jose and the other in San Francisco), General Assembly provides education and training in coding, data, design, and marketing. Throughout the year, General Assembly offers women the chance to learn useful tech skills, like front-end web development and product management. The San Francisco locations host women in tech panels (click link to check/follow for the next event. Depending on your unique situation, you may be eligible for the General Assembly’s Opportunity Fund in web development or user experience.
Representing more than 117,000 women business owners of the Bay area, the NAWBO-SFA is a useful resource for community, education, political advocacy, and networking. You will be able to learn from local peers with business incomes varying from under $100,000 to over $30 million. Membership packages start at $19.95 per month with a $100 one-time initiation fee. There are discounts available to qualifying students.
MotherCoders is a tech orientation program designed for moms. This part-time program—with on-site childcare—provides mothers with the opportunity to learn basic web development.
Through Women in Consulting, you can bounce ideas off of like-minded professionals and get feedback from seasoned professional consultants in a broad range of more than 30 specialties. This is a 501(c)6 nonprofit professional and educational organization and has membership packages starting at $125 per year.
Women Catalysts offers “powerful storytelling, lasting community, and the best resources”. In addition to a calendar packed with networking events—ranging from fireside chats to workshops—the organization recently launched a membership program starting at $40 per month, which includes discounts, office hours with Women Catalysts co-founders, and other benefits.
While 500 Startups doesn’t provide funding just to women, this accelerator backed over 100 women-led companies, including Wildfire, TaskRabbit, and SlideShare, during the 2010-2014 period. Through its 500 Women Syndicate, 500 Startups continues to support organizations that have at least one woman founder who holds a minimum of 10% ownership of the company.
In 2015, this non-profit helped 33 talented, low-income food entrepreneurs to formalize and grow their business in the San Francisco area. 94% of recipients of La Cocina’s incubator program are women. While the incubator program has several requirements, including a low threshold of income and set criteria for business readiness, the program invites non-qualified business to apply as commercial kitchen users. Check here for upcoming La Cocina orientation events.
Limited to nine founders at a time, the Women’s Startup Lab is a year-long program that kicks off with an intensive two-week residential program in Silicon Valley. Since October 2013, this accelerator focuses on empowering female founders and their teams. Alumni from this female-focused incubator include travel service Twip, boater-to-boater rental and charter marketplace Cruzin, and artificial intelligence platform Cognea (acquired by IBM in 2014).
Equita is an end-to-end platform for women tech entrepreneurs. The nonprofit offers an educational program, access to mentors and investors, a collaborative space and seed capital investments (for qualified accelerator graduates).
A meetup that focuses on building a stronger female tech community in San Francisco. At Data Driven Women events you can learn from fellow small business owners and entrepreneurs. Past meetups have focused on fundraising and raising capital in Silicon Valley and finding opportunities and advancing further in STEM fields.
Taking place the second week of May, San Francisco Small Business Week is dedicated to honoring and supporting the 120,000 thousand small businesses and entrepreneurs that call San Fransisco home. In the past, they’ve hosted workshops specifically for women entrepreneurs, including “Empowering Women! Lessons Learned from Female Business Owners”.
With the mission to connect women in technology, entrepreneurship and business, about 2-3 Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners occur on a monthly basis. Featuring onstage speakers, dinner, and drinks, and swag, Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners have been hosted by 120 companies (and counting).
On its 28th edition, the annual PBWC Conference will take place on April 14, 2020, at the Moscone Center West in San Francisco offering a full day of world-class keynote speakers. Advance conference registration starts at $349 per person. If you enjoy this conference, then consider becoming a member of the PBWC for only $100 ($49 in savings) and attend complimentary events around Northern California throughout the year.
The QED seminar series connects participants of the QB3 incubator program at the University of San Francisco (UCSF) with leading entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and industry experts. Fortunately, this event is open to all guests for a general admission fee of about $10. Past talks have been lead by notorious female entrepreneurs and professors, including Ambika Bumb, Founder of Bikanta; Dr. Elizabeth Iorns, Founder & CEO of Science Exchange; and Dr. I. Elaine Allen, a biostatistics professor at UCSF.
Sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs, IBM Watson, and Pivotal Labs, Startup Grind offers several events for entrepreneurs in the San Francisco area. These events are a great way to connect and be inspired by other local entrepreneurs. A combination of no membership fees and top-notch speakers draw talented individuals interested or involved in startups. Events usually last three hours. Tickets go fast so make sure to sign up as soon as you find out about an upcoming event.
ChickTech is concentrated on retaining women in the technology workforce. In addition to a series of quarterly community-building events featuring technical workshops and educational panels, the grassroots organization hosts the ACT-W Conference once a year.
Small business owners who have at least two years of operations under their belts and are looking for a term loan of up to $500K to fuel their growth should check out Funding Circle’s term loans. These types of loans are appropriate for opening a new store, hiring new employees, investing in new technology to take on new markets, or securing working capital to cover seasonal fluctuations.
When you’re looking for a loan of up to $5 million to start a new small business, expand your small business, or acquire another small business, you should shop around at SBA participating lenders. The SBA San Francisco district office keeps a list of close to 80 SBA participating lenders offering different loan programs, including the 7(a) guaranty loan program and the SBAExpress loan program. It’s a good idea to explore SBA loans because they are three to five times more likely to go to women than non-SBA loans.
Once you reach a certain size, co-working spaces and coffee shops won’t cut it. That’s when a commercial real estate financing specialist, such as TMC Financing, comes in. This is an SBA approved lender that can help you with a CDC/504 Loan to purchase major fixed assets, such as real estate or equipment, with below-market, long-term, fixed interest rates.
The VDEC is a non-profit small business lender with over 40 years of experience and over $400 million in loans to 108,000 small businesses to create and retain more than 200,600 new jobs. The VDEC is participating in a pilot loan program designed to increase the number of SBA-guaranteed loans to small businesses in underserved communities. If your small business is in one of those communities, you could apply to a maximum loan of $250,000 with a prime rate under the prime rate plus 6%. Learn more about the SBA’s Community Advantage Loan Program at the SBA’s website.
Know of any other awesome resources for women entrepreneurs in San Francisco? Tweet at @fundingcircleus and let us know!
Samantha Novick is a senior editor at Funding Circle, specializing in small business financing. She has a bachelor's degree from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Prior to Funding Circle, Samantha was a community manager at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Her work has been featured in a number of top small business resource sites and publications.