Tory Burch Foundation and U.S. Department of Commerce Team to Provide Resources for Female Entrepreneurs

The Tory Burch Foundation has joined forces with the U.S. Department of Commerce to further the foundation’s mission of empowering women entrepreneurs with access to capital, education and community.

On Monday, Gina M. Raimondo, the U.S. commerce secretary, visited Burch’s New York headquarters to discuss the partnership. There were more than 100 attendees, including fellows from the foundation, business leaders, government and nonprofit partners and media. Among those in attendance were Lauren Bush Lauren, chief executive officer and cofounder of Feed Projects; Reshma Saujani, founder of Moms First U.S. and Girls Who Code; Dee Poku, founder of the Wie Suite and Black Women Raise, and Brett Heyman, founder and creative director of Edie Parker.

More from WWD

The conversation, moderated by Tiffany Dufu, the foundation’s new president, ranged from hurdles female entrepreneurs face to what the Department of Commerce can provide these entrepreneurs, ranging from capital and resources to help in exporting their products.

Tiffany Dufu, Tory Burch and Gina Raimondo.
Tiffany Dufu, Tory Burch and Gina Raimondo.

Each year Tory Burch selects 50 female entrepreneurs for a yearlong program designed to help them grow their businesses through workshops, coaching sessions, network-building and financial resources. There are more than 300 Tory Burch Fellows. The Fellows Program has provided $1.9 million in grants to help 280 women grow their businesses. Prior to the conversation, Ellie Kassner of Kassner Ironwork, Taylor Shaw of Black Women Animate and Shalini Samtani of Open the Joy — all Tory Burch Fellows — spoke about their experiences.

Asked how she and the Commerce Secretary got together, Burch, executive chairman and chief creative officer of her brand, explained that when she first met with Raimondo last October, she didn’t know what they could do together, but they were both aligned in understanding the power of collaboration. Once Burch learned about the abundance of resources the Commerce Department has and how they can combine it with the network of women she has who don’t necessarily know about those resources, she realized “that can be transformative.”

Raimondo said she’s a longtime admirer of Burch’s. “Every time I meet an exceptional woman, [I think] ‘How do we work together? How do I support you?'” Raimondo said. She told the audience of entrepreneurs: “Help each other because it makes a difference.”

Raimondo said that prior to getting into public life, she was in business and funded small businesses in the health care world. (Later, she served as the governor of Rhode Island from 2015 to 2021.)

“To me, it feels every start-up needs a few things. You need customers, you need to protect your IP [intellectual property] and you need access to capital. We can help at the Commerce Department. We run the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,” she said. She said since she met with Burch and the team, they’ve started webinars on protecting one’s IP.

Further, she said, “We can help with export promotion. Let us help you export. You can double or triple your revenue. It’s hard to figure out if you’re a small business.” She also said they can provide access to capital and have “a whole bunch of initiatives around that.”

The Department of Commerce is holding a series of publicly available workshops with the Tory Burch Foundation’s network of more than 1.8 million women to help increase access to critical government resources and further supporting the community with free public education, advisory and networking opportunities, tools to navigate DOC resources for small businesses and information for women entrepreneurs to utilize the breadth of the federal government.

Asked the three biggest hurdles female entrepreneurs face, Burch said, “The three things that women need — capital, education and community.” She said women have a harder time than men getting access to capital. Fifty percent of entrepreneurs are women, and less than 2 percent of venture capital goes to women. She said they’ve partnered with Bank of America and have reached $100 million in low-interest loans. They’ve deployed $3.2 million in grants to women of color. They have another program that’s given $1 million in no-interest loans to their fellows, which they want to expand. “Women are a great investment. They repay their loans at a 98 percent rate,” Burch said.

“If women succeed, economies succeed. Until we get rid of the non-understanding of that, we are never going to make the progress. I’m talking about bottom-line progress as well. Forget humanity progress, but progress for the bottom line,” Burch said.

She said the foundation offers free education on the website and some 650,000 people benefit annually. She said men are much better at networking than women. “The best gift that we can give is each other. Many of the businesses experience many of the same challenges. To have each others’ support, whether that’s word of mouth or helping buy products from the business or getting it out is incredible,” she said.

Raimondo had this advice for female entrepreneurs: “First of all, women, don’t be afraid to say you want to have wealth.” She said to have independence and success “is a good thing, so go for it.”

“You want to have highly successful, highly profitable businesses,” Raimondo said. She said they’re working on a national entrepreneurship strategy, and President Joe Biden has put together a task force, that Raimondo chairs. She’s working hard to have a focus on female entrepreneurs and to make sure it’s also focused outside of metropolitan hubs. They are running a tech hub program and putting $500,000 toward it. “Communities in the U.S. that aren’t New York, San Francisco and Boston, but that have hubs of innovation.…We’re just trying to tap every entrepreneur, wherever you are, and enable you to be successful,” she said.

From the very beginning, Burch said she wanted to create a company with purpose at its center.

Twenty years ago when she went to present her business plan to investors “the idea of purpose and business was unheard of; I was pretty much laughed out of the room,” Burch said. “I’ve always been intrigued with the concept of ‘doing good is good for business.'”

In conclusion, Dufu asked if they could wave a magic wand and do one thing to advance women entrepreneurs, what would it be?

“There are so many things,” Raimondo said. “First, having more women run countries would help the world. When I look around the world, Russia, China, what’s going on in the Middle East. All are run by men.…I think having more women in positions of leadership at the biggest institutions, the biggest banks, the country level. Make money, go fast, don’t lower [your] standards, but have some sense of humanity while you do it,” she said.

Burch said bias comes into everything. “If I could take a magic wand and get rid of bias around women that would be a good start, whether it’s women should take care of children, they should take care of their parents. The fact that we’re [still] talking about equity and pay today is absurd. Women’s rights should be a given, not a favor.”

Best of WWD