How The Tory Burch Foundation Is Supporting Women Business Owners Amid The Pandemic

Avani Sarkar, Viral, and Viral launched Modi Toys to teach their children all they could write about Hinduism in 2018. Sarkar acknowledges that the journey to their goal has been difficult.

Sarkar, 37, states that ironically, being a mom truly inspired me to start my own business. “But being a mom is what I sometimes feel holds me back from being an effective entrepreneur to my full potential,” says Sarkar, 37.

Sarkar joined the Tory Burch Foundation’s Fellows program after three years of business. Her fellow South Asian entrepreneurs introduced her. Sarkar applied and was admitted to the 2021 cohort, which began in June.

Tory Burch launched her eponymous initiative in 2015 to help women founders succeed. Six cohorts of more than 180 women received $1.5 million in grants and no-interest loans in the 2020 and 2021 classes. As long as funding to women-owned businesses remains marginal–female founders received just 2.3% of all venture capital dollars last year, down from 2.8% in 2019, according to data from Crunchbase–such grants and loans will always be welcome. Sarkar, who made Forbes’ Next 1000, said that the program’s real value is in the relationships it creates.

She said, “The financial value, it’s just the icing upon the cake.” It’s about having access to people.

Laurie Fabiano (president of the Tory Burch Foundation) says this has been especially important during Covid-19. “The thing that kept them going was being together and being able to listen to how someone else was going through the same thing,” she said. Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely.

Fabiano claims that the program provides workshops for business development and introductions to Tory Burch employees. They are available to assist fellows with any supply-chain management issues they might be facing. Networking is also a key component.

Sarkar says, “That’s what’s most exciting to tap into–just being able to access other entrepreneurs who’re women, and as women, we face unique challenges in terms of access to capital and childcare.” It’ll be interesting to see how everyone has dealt with and overcame those challenges.

Small businesses owned by women have been most severely affected by the pandemic. According to U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in July 2020, 47% of female owners of small businesses reported that their company was in good condition. This is down from 60% six months prior, compared with 62% of male counterparts. Goldman Sachs surveyed female entrepreneurs earlier this summer and found that 60% reported declining revenues while 70% had to modify their business models in response to the pandemic.

“We were able to help with a lot of these pivots. We gave advice, and we just talked through the ideas. It was a resilient cohort,” Fabiano explains, noting how important the community fellows have been to the 2020 and 2021 cohorts. Gallup’s survey found that 31% reported worsening mental health, 62% reporting increased stress, and 60% more worry, since the pandemic.

“For them to have the ability to talk with the other 49 fellows and hear their experiences, both business and personal, it helped them get through it,” Fabiano said. “And they all got through it.”

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Samatha Vale
Samatha a senior writer for HC's entertainment team. She is an entreprenuer, mother and an excellent writer. She's also an avid reader, music enthusiast and all around inquisitive person - which is just a nice way of saying she's nosy.

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