Coro Pittsburgh Women i Leadership Program. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Sumarcz.

Bevin Baker was sitting in a civic strategy session for Coro Pittsburgh, listening to a woman entrepreneur on stage express her frustration at how difficult it is for women to get loans from banks. Her disappointment resonated with Baker, who is a career business banker and advocate for women in business. She is also a member of Coro Pittsburgh’s Women in Leadership program—a yearlong leadership enhancement and civic engagement program that supports emerging women leaders. The program culminates with a project that each cohort group introduces to respond to an issue that affects women in the region.

This year, the current cohort is launching Invest in Hera competition for female entrepreneurs with early-stage businesses. The program not only provides financial and technical support for women entrepreneurs, it aims to raise awareness for the need to lower barriers for women who want to establish their own business.

According to the Small Business Administration, only 30% of its loans go to women-owned businesses.

“I’ve worked for three banks in three different counties in the region and what I’ve seen is that very few women apply for loans,” says Baker. “This is problematic in many ways. Not only do women not get access to valuable entrepreneurial support, it also affects other women down the line. We need more women to own and lead companies to help even out the field across the board.”

Planning for Invest in Her involved not only Women in Leadership members but also the women’s own wider networks. “One of the other things that we saw is that there are a lot of women’s groups in this city—but there is a need to be inclusive of men, which may sound counterintuitive. To change the tide, we need to have both genders support women.”

Applications for Invest in Her are open until November 1st. Finalists for Invest In Her will be invited to pitch their businesses to a panel of judges at a live event at AlphaLab Gear on December 8th, 2015. The winner will receive a cash prize of at least $2,500.

Along with financial support, the winner of the competition will receive mentoring support. “We want to help female business owners to feel more empowered and confident and making that pitch,” says Baker.

“The goal for this program is to get more women to think about starting their own business or take what they have to the next level,” adds Baker. “We want women who have ideas to go for it.”

Leah Lizarondo

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment. She is the Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy. She writes about the intersection of food, health, innovation and policy.