SBA’s New Push for Women-Owned Federal Contractors


The Small Business Administration has announced a new traveling campaign to further expand opportunities for women-owned contractors, describing the ChallengeHer effort as a way to play “matchmaker” in the government and business supply chains.

SBA Deputy Administrator Marie Johns told a luncheon sponsored by SBA, the nonprofit Women Impacting Public Policy and American Express OPEN, that the effort will “leverage collective resources to connect women-owned small businesses with the decision-makers and contract opportunities housed by our federal partners, both at the national level and in their local communities.”

Twelve years after passage of the initial legislation to boost women-owned businesses, President Obama in January signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a long-sought provision to lift the $6.5 million dollar cap on contracts that women-owned businesses could compete for under the women-owned business preference.

“Finally there’s a law on the books,” Johns told the luncheon on Tuesday. “It fell to this administration to put the regulations in place.”

She said the nation’s economy includes 25 million small business firms employing 60 million people, or half of the private sector. The federal government awards $100 billion a year in small business contracts, an amount that has risen under Obama by $32 billion over the George W. Bush administration’s three-year total, she said. There are now 13,000 women in SBA’s small business registry, but with outreach and training, there could be more.

The ChallengeHer campaign plans initial stops to women’s business gatherings in Phoenix, Seattle, New Orleans, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco and New York.

Antonella Pianalto, vice president of government affairs for American Express, told the luncheon that women remain “vastly underrepresented in the $500 billion a year the government spends on contracting.” With women having reached only 4 percent of the law’s goal of 5 percent of contracting for women-owned business, some $4 billion remains on the table, she said. “The stage is set for us like never before. What we need is for women to step up to the challenge.”

(Image via kozirsky/

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Antonella Pianalto. She is vice president of government affairs for American Express.

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