Women entrepreneurs to dispel micro myth

March 2, 2009

090301_glenda_pic- Glenda Stone is chief executive and founder of Aurora, a recruitment advertising and market intelligence company, and co-chairs the UK Women’s Enterprise Taskforce established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The opinions expressed are her own. -

Most venture capital and angel investment tend to go to a specific breed of entrepreneur – innovative, well networked, intelligent, confident … male. Is this the result of deep-rooted discrimination or is this simply an issue of supply and demand? Women-owned businesses are largely under-capitalised and this leads to inhibited growth.

Access to finance is cited by numerous sources as the greatest barrier to the growth of women’s enterprise but “access” is only the consequence and “education” is the cause. More women need to participate in business education addressing business growth, technology, revenue models, and securing correct types of finance.

Globally women-led businesses receive less than 5 percent of venture capital. Women business owners also seek less bank loans and overdraft facilities. Regardless of country, women are more frugal – they do more with less, for less. Is this a flattering positive or is this a naive flaw that perpetuates women’s relegation to micro enterprise?

I co-chair a taskforce established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. We advise on strategy relative to increasing the quantity and scalability of women’s enterprise. If women started and grew businesses at the same rate as their male counterparts, the economy would experience greater wealth and job creation and, needless to say, generate further substantial tax revenues for government.

The private sector is keen to encourage emerging markets of women entrepreneurs because this can result in an expanded customer base and vertical cross-selling opportunities. One of the biggest challenges facing the Taskforce is the disproportionate interest in micro versus fast-growth businesses, not so much from the private sector or senior experts in central government, but from business support providers and the actual women themselves. Perhaps the fast-growth female led businesses are simply busy doing business and do not view gender-based networks as relevant.
In addition to government programmes and private sector support typically from finance and technology corporations, thousands of businesswomen’s networking groups also exist around the world to encourage and support the rise of female entrepreneurs. Serving an important need, many of these networks provide various training programmes and events but the networks themselves usually lack revenue models and so each month many new networks launch while others simply disappear.

Although recent years have seen an emergence of women’s funding networks predominantly in the US, Canada and the UK, most networks tend to focus on micro-enterprise and social networking rather than on formal business education. In addition, media coverage tends to focus on small women-owned businesses in retail that have a good story for high audience appeal rather than on the more scalable and complex business-to-business enterprises that may be of less interest to mainstream media audiences.

Media coverage of women starting their business from the kitchen table in an area they have always enjoyed as a consumer, all while working flexibly caring for children, certainly predominate both online and offline media. Such stereotypes, while important for their inspiration, simply reinforce a narrow concept of women’s enterprise. “Women’s enterprise” is often acknowledged as one homogenous group with little market segmentation. Is this ignorance or because it is a market not considered to be worth pursuing?

International Women’s Day on March 8, celebrated annually since 1911, provides an excellent opportunity for reinforcing the importance of women’s equality through economic advancement – and creating wealth through enterprise is key to this. With around 15 per cent increase in the level of International Women’s Day activity year on year around the world, there is certainly considerable energy for positive change.

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