NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — Despite only modest upticks in the economy in the last 12 months, entrepreneurs are gaining confidence about their future.

Small business owners reported lenders providing increased access to credit over the last 12 months and a greater willingness from the entrepreneurs themselves to put their own personal savings into their new business ventures, according to a new Kauffman Foundation study.

Personal savings as a means for funding the startup jumped from 66% in 2012 to 86% in 2013. Of the entrepreneurs that did have difficulties starting up, only 28% named lack of access to credit as the main reason – down 17 percentage points from last year. The study, titled "Who Started New Businesses in 2013," was conducted with companies recently formed using LegalZoom.

"In previous reports benchmarking entrepreneurial confidence, various elements indicated business owners' often optimistic outlook on the economy," said John Suh, LegalZoom's chief executive. "But few actions correlate more directly with economic confidence than personal investment. Investing personal savings to start a business when credit is readily available signals high conviction in the future."

Other funding sources, according to the study, included credit cards at 16% — up from 10% in 2012 and retirement savings at 8.5% — a hike from 6.5% the previous year.

The authors of the study said another good sign for the economy may be the uptick in the number of women starting their own business, up from 31 percent of new business founders in 2012 to 35% in 2013. The study concluded more female entrepreneurs may mean fewer men are leaving salaried work.

The research also showed businesses with one to four employees slightly increased from 25% in 2012 to 26.5% in 2013. Some 12% of the startups responding had revenues above $100,000, a 4% increase over 2012. Also, startups with revenue less than $50,000 dropped from 82% in 2012 to 77.5% in 2013.

"Entrepreneurs are on the economy's front lines daily," said Dane Stangler, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. "The fact that the survey shows small, positive growth among these companies suggests that economic recovery may be gaining vibrancy on a broader scale, as well."

The percentage of new business owners that said they had encountered no difficulties in forming their companies fell three percentage points from 2012 — to 37%. The good news, however, is that of those businesses that did cite difficulties, 36 percent listed unpredictability and 28% named lack of access to credit – down a dramatic 19 and 17 percentage points, respectively, from 2012.

The study also showed small shifts in age composition of the those starting businesses between 2012 and 2013 — with slightly fewer entrepreneurs aged 18-29 and 50-59, and slightly more aged 30-39 and, surprisingly 60 and above.