Opinions & People

A new tone for relevance

by Su Aziz

If you think plenty have contributed to the solution of what makes a successful women entrepreneur, then you’re right. Admittedly, it’s an age-old question. Do we or don’t we need to revive the solutions to make them relevant today?

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. In this case, it invents and drives entrepreneurship. There are plenty of women who became entrepreneurs out of necessity such as survival or to counter lack of employment opportunities. What’s more, entrepreneurship among women is growing. In the United States, according to statistics from the National Association of Women Business Owners, there are 9.4 million firms owned by women within the first quarter of 2018 and they employ 7.1 million people while generating almost USD1.5 billion in sales.

Meanwhile, according to European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), while women constitute 52 per cent of the European population, only 30 per cent are entrepreneurs and 32 per cent are economic leaders. The report surmises that women are the largest untapped entrepreneurial and leadership potential in Europe. What’s more, it reports, when it comes to the tech sector, women fill only around 15 per cent of tech-sector jobs in the European Union (EU), even lower at senior management and company board levels except for a few exceptions in certain European countries.

These statistics are reflecting what’s been repeatedly questioned about women entrepreneurship. It’s time to add a new tone to these questions to pave the way to a new outlook and solutions. Here, we highlight from various sources a few solutions to the commonly asked questions that could be helpful in steering solution-seeking toward a fresh direction. At worst, they’re food for thought.

What contributes to the success of women entrepreneurs?
Apparently, age. A Forbes’ article How Women Entrepreneurs Can Be More Successful, caught our eye. According to it and judged by various conversations held with women entrepreneurs in the United States, many women start businesses after their retirement or as a second career.

‘Women entrepreneurs [of] 50-plus [years old] have unique perspectives, connections and relationships they have cultivated throughout their careers that they can leverage for the success of their businesses,’ the article reports. ‘They’re also more likely to have their own capital as well as a network of potential capital they can access for their businesses. Our studies show that emerging companies that start with a strong foundation of capital are far more likely to be successful than those who are poorly capitalised.’

The Harvard Business Review reports data from the Kauffman Foundation which indicates the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the United States shifts to the 55 to 64 age group with people over 55 years old almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34 years old. As of 2012, according to Forbes, there are 3.2 million women entrepreneurs over 55 years old. From 2007 to 2012, Harris says, women entrepreneurs over 65 years old see the highest growth of the number of firms in any age group for men or women — up 42 per cent.

What to take away from that is, age and experience do matter. ‘The average age of a successful entrepreneur in high-growth industries such as computers, health care and aerospace, is 40. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25. The vast majority, 75 per cent, have more than six years of industry experience and half have more than 10 years when they create their startup,’ says Duke University scholar Vivek Wadhwa in Harvard Business Review, based on Vivek’s findings from studying 549 successful technology ventures.

How could women entrepreneurs defy social expectations?
In the same Forbes article, it reports that most female business owners who attend networking events notice the weak number of women in a crowded seminar and when women entrepreneurs talk business with primarily male executives, it can be unnerving. ‘In this sort of situation, women may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically “male” attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive and sometimes overly harsh. But successful female CEOs believe that remaining true to yourself and finding your own voice are the keys to rising above preconceived expectations,’ the article reports.

Furthermore, support of women investors can be the leg up needed for the women entrepreneurs. According to the Forbes article, ‘Not all startup founders look for investors to help get their businesses off the ground but [they look for] those who do know how difficult the pitching process can be. Raising capital is even more difficult for women-owned firms – a 2014 Babson College report found that less than three per cent of venture-capital-funded companies had female CEOs.’

Felena Hanson, founder of a female angel investor group Hera Fund states in the Forbes articles that one other way to overcome this issue is by working to get more female investors to support each another. It’s true this isn’t a new solution but Hera Fund, according to Felena, ‘Look to not only inspire and encourage female investors but to grow and support other female entrepreneurs through both funding and strategic educational workshops.’ There is, after all, strength in numbers.

How can we innovate solutions?
In The Parliament Magazine, Anthea McIntyre, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group coordinator on Parliament’s employment committee, says the one thing she wants to see real change in is attitudes towards career counselling in schools arguing that girls are often pushed towards stereotypical careers in the health and care sectors. ‘We know that Europe’s crying out for engineers. You can be an entrepreneurial engineer. We need to encourage schools to talk about what opportunities there are and the idea of teaching entrepreneurship skills in schools, I believe, is really important,’ she adds.

In the same magazine, Lowri Evans, director general of DG internal market, industry and entrepreneurship and SMEs at the European Commission, states that many women entrepreneurs lack confidence, the means and limit themselves when it comes to expanding their business. ‘Our data shows that women start smaller and they don’t have the same ambition to scale up and become big entrepreneurs,’ Lowri continues. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector in 2015, for example, only had 17 per cent of the 1.4 million involved in ICT training in Europe were female.

‘If you’re an aspiring businesswoman and you don’t have digital skills, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Within this there’s a further problem that women represent fewer than 30 per cent of entrepreneurs in Europe. And this number has remained static for the last 10 years. Basically, our present policy responses aren’t moving the picture at all,’ Lowri adds. ‘Access to finance is a generic issue at European level, but it’s also a woman thing on top of it, for sure.’

According to European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), although women are often early adopters of new technology, they’re rarely at their inception. If technological developments are almost entirely conducted by men, then half of society isn’t represented in the development process. It’s also widely admitted that a more diverse ecosystem leads to better products and services, grants access to new and different experiences, and significantly improves the work environment and company as well as talent productivity.

So, what else can women entrepreneurs do to be more successful?
The traditional answer to that, as listed in Forbes, will be to leverage on available resources, established network and human capital. To add to that list, is to build a network of women-focused angel investors, crowdfunding and microloan programs. Also, to fill the gap in terms of delivering product or service that the market demands. However, after trolling through articles and studies, our conclusion is, these traditional answers have been recycled over and over again for a good reason: they’re still valid and relevant to this day and age, alas. There’s no point reinventing the wheel or fixing what isn’t broken, it’s better to zero in on applying solutions onto matters at hand. Well, at least till their relevance dry out.


One of WIEF Foundation’s pillar, WBN, organises a few initiatives for women SMEs around the region annually, in hopes to further develop their skills, business and economic status.

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash.

28 Jun 2018
Last modified: 16 Jul 2018
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