Women’s Business Center of Charlotte leader breaks down the numbers for women-owned businesses

Natalie Williams shares the data on women-owned businesses and what it means for Charlotte's Black women entrepreneurs.
Natalie Williams

A snapshot by the numbers

  • There are 12.9 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. Of that, 10.7 million (88%) earn less than $100,000 annually. Only 1.7% of those businesses earn at least $1 million.
  • Women of color (African American, Asian American, Latin American, Native American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander) collectively account for 50% of all women-owned U.S. businesses.
  • Black women employ roughly 400,000 people across the country, in comparison to 9.3 million employed by white women.
  • Women-owned firms generate $1.9 trillion in revenue. Firms owned by white women earn $1.4 trillion and the other $422.5 million are spread among the minority demographics.

Natalie Williams learned early on that Charlotte has a lot to offer minority-owned businesses when strategy is aligned with the right resources, and essentially, when you know how to play the game. As executive director of the Women’s Business Center of Charlotte, Williams says it’s important to understand the market landscape so that entrepreneurs know how to develop a strategy that fits into a wider picture.

She pointed to data that paints an interesting picture for Black women entrepreneurs. For example, while women of color are starting businesses faster than anyone else, Black women entrepreneurs are not hiring as many employees or raising as much revenue in comparison to other minority groups.

As a Black woman entrepreneur myself, I wanted to know more. Below are a few gems from our conversation, including her opinion about the missing strategy that’s stopping Black women-owned businesses from long-term success.

Tell us about yourself. 

I am originally from New Jersey. I’m a mom of three and married over 32 years. I have been the executive director of the Women’s Business Center of Charlotte for the past three years, really since its inception. 

We started in June 2016 when our host organization, The Institute, which is located in Durham, responded to and won an RFP issued by the [Small Business Administration] to operate a women’s small business center in Charlotte. Essentially, I serve a 12-county district from Anson County to Alexander County, Mecklenburg and anything in between. 


What does the Women’s Business Center Do? What gaps does it fill in the business development process?

We do like to think of ourselves as a gap-filler. For instance, there are services that [Central Piedmont Community College] may offer that we don’t offer. We would use them as a referral. Our organization addresses many of these gaps through our signature programs offered throughout the year, which can run from 16 hours to 12 months, and they’re offered to small businesses at a very minimal fee. 

There are many people in partnership with us, including the City of Charlotte, Small Business Center networks, colleges and organizations like SCORE and Charlotte Business Resources. 

Now this statistic will scare you: There are 12.9 million women-owned businesses in the United States [in which] 10.7 million (88%) earn less than $100,000 annually. 

American Express recently released its 2019 Women-Owned Businesses Report. It tells us that only 1.7% of those businesses are million-dollar businesses. This is where we as Black women come in. Our passion derives from filling these gaps. That was one of those themes from the Black women entrepreneurs town hall meeting; how to start our businesses and get access to capital. 

Attendees packed Dupp & Swat in Camp North End for the State of Women Entrepreneurs in CLT town hall, held on June 24, 2019. Photo: Qcitymetro

Based on 2019 data, women of color account for 50% of all women-owned businesses. This includes all women of color — Asian American, Latin American, Native American, African American and Native Hawaiian. This means the other 50% is held by white women alone. If we could gather ourselves around these numbers as Black women, we could have a much greater effect. 


With that said, what do you see as the current landscape of Black women-owned businesses in Charlotte? 

Numbers don’t lie. As far as the landscape, and the types of businesses in Charlotte — and across the country — [they] are concentrated in a few industries: other services (like hair and nail salons, pet care), healthcare and social assistance, and scientific and technical services (like bookkeeping, accounting and consulting). Across the board, these businesses account for the largest amount of people generating the least amount of revenue (under $100,000 annually).

In regards to employment, non-minority women-owned firms are employing 9.3 million people while Black women employ roughly 400,000 people across the country. 

We have people coming [to Charlotte] to start businesses every day. It can be difficult for people who are transplants because they don’t know the Charlotte climate. This could present an obstacle for some people. Similar to the national landscape, roughly 75-80% of my clients are from the “other services” category and 95% of them are solopreneurs.

Women-owned firms generate $1.9 trillion in revenue. Of that, non-minority women-owned earn $1.4 trillion. The other $422.5 million are spread among the minority demographics: Asian Americans earn $223 million, Latin Americans earn $119 million, and African American firms earn close to $64 million in revenue annually. 

[Black women are] ranked No. 3 as it relates to revenue, and we’re ranked No. 3 as it relates to rates of employment, but we are ranked No. 1 in the rate of starting businesses. This story must be told and the mindset has got to change. We have to change our mindset about the business and being in businesses. 

Natalie Williams, executive director of the Women’s Business Center of Charlotte, with R&B singer Fantasia during the Center’s signature Heart of a Woman conference in 2018. Photo courtesy of WBCC

Do you think recent efforts have made a difference?

I still see that Black women in Charlotte are not taking enough advantage of the free resources available to them. Some of this is due to not knowing about the free resources. A lot of us are working full-time and trying to transition.

It’s good that we open businesses at this rate, but we have to have a strategy. As the small business landscape is getting more competitive, and people are becoming wiser about products, you have to innovate. And you’ve got to know your numbers. This knowledge will differentiate your business from others. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Christine is a local government professional with a love for the community. In her spare time, she volunteers, travels, enjoys good southern food and loves seeing urban policy theory play out in everyday life. Public service is her jam.

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