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GEW Spotlights High-growth Women’s Entrepreneurship

Jonathan Ortmans @jortmans

United States of America

Jan 04, 2012


All of us at GEW Global are so proud of all the organizers behind Startup Weekend. As several blog posts on this site have described, GEW 2011 was an excellent year for Startup Weekend’s around the world. Beyond all the great energy and startups coming out of this effort, its scale also allows us to continue to learn about the startup community. One observation I thought worthy of comment was that while women have gone far as startup leaders, they are still in the deficit at such technology entrepreneurship events.

GEW 2011 brought much attention to the question of maximizing the entrepreneurial potential of women. For example, the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac Global Women's Summit in Kansas City on November 16th, 2011 drew from a report, Overcoming the Gender Gap: Women Entrepreneurs as Economic Drivers showing that despite the fact that about 46 percent of the workforce and more than 50 percent of college students are female, they represent only about 35 percent of startup business owners and tend to experience less growth and prosperity compared to firms started by men. Further, women take fewer steps to position themselves to start high-growth companies.  At the university innovation level, female faculty patent their research at only about 40 percent of the rate of their male colleagues, and they tend to rely on formal university conduits to commercialize their research, rather than reaching out to private industry.

As Lesa Mitchell, Kauffman Foundation vice president for advancing innovation pointed out "Women's entrepreneurship is an economic issue, not a gender-equity issue." The next 10 years are being called the 'Decade of the Woman Entrepreneur'. This and other summits during GEW brought together bright minds to address the motivations, funding issues, metrics and solutions for women's participation in high-growth entrepreneurship. With more data now available, at such events we can now start separating more myths from reality.

For example, scientific education is not the main barrier where more women than men are earning PhDs in the biological sciences. The problem is that few have been educated as innovators. Without entrepreneurial education, this growing percentage of the scientifically skilled community will not contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness through innovation. Vivek Wadwha’s findings also helped dispel motivation assumptions. His data shows that both men and women tend to have an equally strong desire to build wealth. The only clearly perceptible difference was in the encouragement that they received from co-founders.

The lack of encouragement of high-growth female entrepreneurship trickles down to the investment pool. For instance, a study by the Angel Capital Education Foundation (ACEF) revealed that of the estimated 225,000 angels who invested $23.1 billion in nearly 50,000 entrepreneurial deals in 2005, no more than eight percent were female. In the 2009 funded list of top VCs only one in 84 was a woman.

Programs like ACTiVATE®, which helps women start technology-enabled businesses by bringing together complimentary programs to help women build capacity as they grow and scale their businesses, are smart investments. A recent independent economic impact study showed ACTiVATE to be a cost-effective method for job creation. Connecting women mentors and investors is also the focus of organizations groups like Women 2.0Astia, the Anita Borg Institute, and Iridescent. Their participants have increasingly more role models to look up to, such as TechCrunch CEO Heather HardeIBM CEO Virginia Rometty, Padmasree Warrior of Cisco, Sandy Jen of Meebo, Marissa Mayer of Google, Freada Kapor of Level Playing Field Institute, Sandy Jen of Meebo, Angela Benton of NewMe Accelerator, and Shaherose Charania, founder of Women 2.0. But many more are needed.

During these tough economic times, when entrepreneurship is so important to adding dynamism and jobs to the economy, women hold a key to economic growth. The untapped potential of women as entrepreneurs, mentors and investors is a missed opportunity not just for women, but for entire economies. I hope GEW leaders will make note when planning for GEW 2012.

tags: Fasttrac, Kauffman Foundation, Lesa Mitchell, Ortmans, Vivek Wadhwa