By: Deborah Livneh, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, WEtech Alliance
Many wonder why women are not nearly as active in the entrepreneurial arena as they could be. It is not for the lack of education. In fact, females make up the majority of university graduates. Is it simply that women have a different mindset than men? One widespread belief is that women just face higher external barriers, such as family responsibilities. Another common explanation is that men are willing to take more risk. There is some truth to this, but it’s not the whole story.
A 2010 research study funded by the Kauffman Foundation discovered important character traits in men and women. The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Are Successful Women Entrepreneurs Different from Men? studied 549 successful founders of high-tech enterprises of which 41 were women.
Astoundingly, the findings show that successful women and men entrepreneurs are similar in almost every respect. Both genders had equivalent level of education, early interest in starting their own business, a strong desire to build wealth or capitalize on a business idea, and the two genders similarly agreed on the top challenges and issues facing any entrepreneur, such as balancing family and business needs.
Many people believe that the access to capital is more restricted for female entrepreneurs, but the study found no major differences in the types of funding sources tapped by men and women entrepreneurs. Funding can be tough to acquire for all new businesses, regardless of sex.
However, some potentially revealing gender differences among successful business founders were identified.
For example, motivation for starting a business differed slightly between the genders. Women emphasized more a business partner’s encouragement as a key enticement towards the risky step into entrepreneurship.
The perception of several key success factors is also somewhat different. Women entrepreneurs place higher value on their prior experience and mentors as contributors to their success than do men. Women also rank their business and professional networks higher than male counterparts.
But beyond the mindset of entrepreneur, there is also a noticeable industry and occupational disparity between genders. Prior experience clearly affects the industry and type of enterprise the entrepreneurs will start. Both men and women possess prior experience in the field of their new venture. Men tend to enjoy more experience in business and technical fields, while women by contrast tend to build on their experience in administrative and service related areas. Florine Mark, president and CEO of The WW Group, Inc., based in Farmington Hills, Mich.
Looking forward, we see increased participation of women in science and engineering, so with that prior experience, more females may choose to become founders of high-tech companies. But innovative and high growth enterprises can be built by successful women entrepreneur in traditional “feminine industries.” Let me mention names of friends who built growing businesses in our region. Take Florine Mark of Michigan as an example. She had built up the successful Weight Watcher International enterprise. It is now helping people across the globe to stay in shape. Anther inspiring entrepreneur is Maureen Lucas. She started Lucas Works right here in Windsor. Profit Magazine lists her company, as well as, Windsorite Meighen Nehme, founder of The Job Shoppe, on the top 200 fastest growing companies in Canada.
Women are a robust pool of potential entrepreneurs. Of course, entrepreneurs are the chief driver of new jobs for the recovering economy, and increasing the total number of entrepreneurs participating in our economy is of prime interest to our community.
Efforts to promote women’s entrepreneurship should ensure access to both mentors and to well-developed networks. This region can greatly benefit from the diversity female entrepreneurs can offer, by encouraging women to take the giant leap for prosperity.