By Deborah Livneh
Have you ever wondered why women are not nearly as active in the entrepreneurial realm as they could be? It isn’t due to lack of education – females make up the majority of university graduates. Is it simply that women have a different mindset than men? One male entrepreneur that I spoke to, explained that women face higher external barriers such as family responsibilities. Others believe that it was because men are more willing to take risks. There is certainly some truth to these notions, but they aren’t the whole story…
A 2010 research study funded by the Kauffman Foundation examined key character traits in male and female entrepreneurs . ‘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 study’s findings showed that successful female and male entrepreneurs are similar in almost every respect. They had equivalent levels 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 life and business demands.
It is also a commonly held belief that 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 the gender of the founder.
However, the study did identify some potentially revealing gender differences among successful business founders.
For example, the motivation behind starting a business differed slightly between the genders. Women placed more emphasis on 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 unique. Female 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.
Beyond the mindset of entrepreneurs, there is still 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 have more experience in business and technical fields, while women by contrast tend to build on their experience in administrative and service related areas.
Looking forward, we can expect to see increased participation of women in science and engineering, so with that prior experience more females may be represented as founders of high tech companies. But innovative and high growth enterprises can be built by successful female entrepreneurs in more ‘feminine industries’, as well.
In our own region there are women who have built growing businesses. Florine Marks of Michigan is a fine example. She built her successful Weight Watchers company that is now located all over North America helping people stay in shape. Anther inspiring entrepreneur is Maureen Lucas. She started ‘Lucas Works’ right here in Windsor. Profit Magazine lists Lucas Works as one of the top 200 fastest growing companies in Canada. The Job Shoppe, founded by Meighen Nehme, also appears on that elite list.
Women are a robust pool of potential entrepreneurs. We know that entrepreneurs are the chief driver of new jobs for the recovering economy. So, 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. The Windsor Downtown Accelerator addresses both. It offers encouragements and support for women entrepreneurs who aspire to take the first giant leap towards their future prosperity.
Deborah Livneh is Entrepreneur–In-Residence at WEtech Alliance, and a session professor at the Odette School of Business, University of Windsor. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Accelerator. Deborah is a veteran co-founder of several innovative startups. She holds an engineering degree and Masters in Business Administration. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Deborah Livneh