SBA's InnovateHER: Going Beyond the Breast Pump

05/20/2015 02:53 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2016

Last fall the Massachusetts Institute of Technology held a "Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hack-a-thon" focused on innovating a device that impacts the lives of so many women who manage the needs of a young child with work, family demands and the day-to-day balancing act that everyone faces in our busy world.

The Hack-a-thon idea along with the White House's Working Families Summit sparked robust conversation earlier this year at the U.S. Small Business Administration and led us to launch InnovateHER, a business challenge focused on innovative products and services that make women's and families' lives better. Through partnerships with our Women's Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers, SCORE chapters, accelerators, incubators, clusters, universities and other organizations, InnovateHER provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase products or services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, have the potential for commercialization, and fill a need in the marketplace.

We were honored to have over 100 competitions take place throughout the country, and in April we selected 15 finalists who are competing for first, second and third place awards for the most innovative product or service. The prize money -- respectively $15, $10 and $5 thousand, is being provided to these winners by Microsoft, with the hope that they'll take their products to the next level.

You can follow the competition, which will be live streamed at, or at #InnovateHER, #DreamSmallBiz or at You can also get information on the competition finalists and updates on the winners at

We hope this is one small step in a larger movement that highlights innovations for and investments in women. Considering that only about 7 percent of venture capital funding in the U.S. goes to women entrepreneurs, but women have 80 percent of the purchasing power in the country, this conversation and events like InnovateHER are critical to our economic growth. As we compete on the global scale with countries that provide robust maternity leave policies and work life balance requirements, the U.S. can do more to focus on innovating for women.

InnovateHER is one of the many initiatives the SBA is promoting to empower women. Through our access to capital, contracting and counseling programs, the SBA is committed to making women's lives better by empowering them to start and grow businesses. SBA lending has expanded, making $16 billion available through nearly 70,000 loans to women-owned businesses between fiscal years 2009 and 2014. We've improved policies for underwriting of our small dollar loans, modernized our systems, and recently launched LINC to provide access to lenders. In the contracting arena, we are in the process of pushing forward the sole source provision for our Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Program. We also continue to provide direct technical assistance to women entrepreneurs through our network of over 100 Women's Business Centers.

We continue to push the limits and identify ways to move beyond a better breast pump, above the glass ceiling and into the future where women are supported as they enter more boardrooms, provide a better life for their children and get paid the same as men.