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Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

Posted by: Jonathan Ortmans on June 13, 2011 Source: Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship

With more women than men in the U.S. earning PhDs in the biological sciences and estimates that around 15 percent of the U.S. GNP over the next two decades will be comprised of life science activities, it is no surprise that women's entrepreneurship has attracted so much attention recently in both the developed and developing countries. And in many other countries, women's entrepreneurship is even more important as a separate track for cultural reasons.

This attention to women's participation in entrepreneurial activities, and in high-growth ventures in particular, is not just a reaction to a future trend. Current data show, for example, that America's female scientists are not commercializing their technologies. In fact, male academic scientists in the life sciences secure patents at more than twice the rate of their female colleagues. Other data suggest that women-owned firms in the U.S. are smaller and less growth-oriented than men-owned firms.  In the UK, only a quarter of all entrepreneurs are female, and women represent just 7% of all science, engineering and technology entrepreneurs.

These realities have generated interest and investment in women's networks, entrepreneurial education, and start-up and growth capital. The Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, for example, has been formed to be a catalyst for economic change by activating women's entrepreneurship. Its ACTiVATE Æ program helps women start technology-enabled businesses from a variety of sources, including technology transfer, and then brings together complimentary programs to help women as they grow and scale their businesses. A recent independent economic impact study showed ACTiVATE to be a cost-effective method for job creation.

Last week in London, the We Own It Summit gathered entrepreneurs, investors and leaders of organizations and institutions researching women's participation in high-growth entrepreneurship to examine these issues more closely. Speakers from around the world led brainstorming sessions, such as "How Does Your Country/Culture of Origin Impact Entrepreneurial Behavior?" and "What routes can and have women taken to become angels and venture firm partners, making early stage investments in high growth companies?"

The world of female entrepreneurship is not just about the business creators per se. It is also about women as investors in new ventures and as supporters in general of other women entrepreneurs (e.g., mentorship). Data shows an untapped pool of entrepreneurial potential among women. A study by the Angel Capital Education Foundation (ACEF) revealed, for instance, that despite increased financial power and wealth, high net worth women represent a largely untapped source of capital for start-up entrepreneurs. In particular, 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.

There is even more work to be done in many countries where female entrepreneurship is still synonymous to micro-enterprise. This is why during Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), there continues to be a plethora of female entrepreneurship activities, such as Womenís Enterprise Day celebrations and the Sembang Sembang event in Malaysia. This coming November, in an effort to reach an even wider female audience, GEW, in conjunction with Kauffman FastTrac, is organizing the FastTrac Global Women's Summit, which will take place in Kansas City, MO. Targeted to aspiring and existing women business owners, the event will help drive support for women-owned businesses and to foster business creation among women.

The untapped potential of women as entrepreneurs, mentors and investors  is a missed opportunity not just for women, but for entire economies. Everyone interested in high-quality jobs and economic growth must continue to work to narrow the gender gap in business creation, start-up financing, patenting and innovation.

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