Are you a woman and an entrepreneur? I’m not surprised, women make up more than half of Europe’s population.
But I should be. Despite equal proportions of men and women in almost every country, female entrepreneurs represent only a third of Europe’s start-up entrepreneurs according to the European Commission.
And this is only the result of a growing trend in the last two decades, we must do better than that. Just take a look at the United States, for example, where women make up almost 40 per cent of the self-employed.
“Female entrepreneurs represent only a third of Europe’s start-up entrepreneurs”
Europe’s economic growth and jobs depend on how entrepreneurship creates new companies, opens up new markets and nurtures new skills. We simply cannot afford to not increase the number of female entrepreneurs.
I would like to invite you to join me, and help make this happen. But first, let’s take a look at the challenges and opportunities.
Finding a Cause
So how does an entrepreneur get started, where do you find business ideas and opportunities? There are at least a few possibilities, take a look at your past professional and life experiences, interests, hobbies and passions and recognised challenges for individuals and societies.
Especially solutions to those challenges – in particular the ones faced by entire societies, such as climate change, can serve as a rich source of innovative business ideas.
The low carbon economy offers a historic opportunity for new businesses to disrupt the market around the world, and to find a profitable niche. Europeans cannot afford to lag behind in this respect either.
Important as the economy may be, entrepreneurship is also important for individuals. In my case for example, launching my own company was one of the best professional decisions in my life. It gave me a real chance to directly benefit from my conscientiousness and entrepreneurial spirit.
“Fear of failure, low entrepreneurial self-esteem and a lack of business ideas and knowledge are cited as key issues”
I had an idea for my own company and it coincided with various opportunities for start-up grant applications in my native country – Poland. I prepared an application for the European Union’s European Social Fund competition in 2009, and to my surprise… it was refused.
I tried again few months later, with the same result. Yet, I didn’t give up and improved my application. I tried a third and final time and was admitted with one of the best results and business plans among applicants! Attitude matters.
Challenges for Women
But it’s not just attitude, women face particular challenges when setting up a business. Often fear of failure, low entrepreneurial self-esteem and a lack of business ideas and knowledge are cited as key issues.
Women frequently tell me that information about projects or training courses is insufficient and does not reach as many women as it could. As a result, women often don’t know where to look for this kind of information.
Stereotyping also constrains women significantly – female young entrepreneurs often claim that they are treated less seriously than men, at least at the beginning of their business activities. That’s according to my own research published in 2015.
The Money Factor
My research also revealed that it is a common misconception among women that money is the most important factor when launching a company. Studies show that even with relatively easy access to financing, women don’t just simply become entrepreneurs overnight.
What matters most is that you have a business idea, and can pursue it free from psychological constraints.
“It is a common misconception
among women that money is the most important factor when launching a company”
Further research shows that when women start their businesses, it is usually a solo initiative. Women’s growth aspirations are often also low, a session at the International Academy of Technology, Education and Development (IATED) conference in Seville demonstrated last year.
Did you know that more than half of women-led enterprises operate in the consumer service sector? Education, distribution, personal services, health and social entrepreneurship are the most frequent choices of female entrepreneurs according to the European Commission.
These sectors are usually associated with lower profitability than sectors currently dominated by men, such as information technology and high-tech manufacturing.
It is important to note that the picture is different depending on where you are in Europe. In Poland for example, nearly half of all the programmes supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups between 2007 and 2013 were specifically designed for women.
Just in one Polish region – Lower Silesia – 27 projects offered financial support for women-led start-ups, and almost 100 workshops on entrepreneurial skills-development exclusively addressing women. Only as a result of these projects, over 600 businesses – including my own – were launched by women between 2007 and 2013.
Similar projects were organised in all other Polish regions, multiplying their effects on the entrepreneurial scene.
During the same period of time, only 17 projects exclusively supporting female entrepreneurship were recorded across all Scandinavian countries, eight programmes in Turkey, just few in Slovakia and the Czech Republic and no programme of this type existed in Hungary.
So help is out there, but it depends on where you are – and whether you can find it. This is why you should encourage your female friends and family to sign up for WINGS, a new European network of female entrepreneurs that I’m supporting.
“It’s not all about the money – meet new people, expand your network and develop an entrepreneurial mind-set!”
The network connects women entrepreneurs around Europe, and has made a vast amount of educational resources available on its website ranging from how to set up a web shop to a list of inspirational TED talks. They can also help you figure out what support programmes are available where you are.
It’s not all about the money – meet new people, expand your network and develop an entrepreneurial mind-set! With more female entrepreneurs, Europe will stand a better chance at competing in the global economy, and in finding sustainable business solutions to climate change.
Are you keen to start a business, but not sure what kind? Consider the biggest business opportunity in the history of the world: climate change and the zero carbon economy. Find out how Climate-KIC can help you get started.