Breaking Down the Barriers for Women Entrepreneurs

This post was contributed by Aaron Coleman, intern at the Case Foundation.

When she was only 22 years old, U.S. Marine Ramona Pierson was hit by drunk driver. The accident put her into a coma for 18 months. When she awoke, she weighed 64 pounds was bald, blind and couldn’t move nor speak. Through her grit and determination, Pierson fought her way back–learning once again how to breathe, walk and talk. Her journey of learning how to live again inspired her to found the personal learning tech startup Declara. In only three years, Declara has grown to 65 employees, attracted $32.5 million in funding and even impressed the President of the United States.

Pierson’s story runs against many of the implicit biases women entrepreneurs face. “They are unambitious, they are afraid of risk, they bring in less returns.”  These are words we hear echoing in conversations around the world and they reflect an implicit bias against women as entrepreneurs—who in reality are just as ambitious, eager and creative as their male counterparts. As the recent Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Policy Digest report succinctly states, “research shows that women make great entrepreneurs.” The Kauffman Foundation’s report follows both the disparities and the opportunities surrounding women entrepreneurs, concluding, that while they “remain underrepresented among the ranks of entrepreneurs” the facts show that “women entrepreneurs are key to accelerating growth.”

Here at the Case Foundation we too believe in the power and potential of women in business, and are committed to leveling the playing field for underrepresented communities. We are inspired by Pierson’s story and the prospect of so many more like her. To help organizations get involved with supporting women entrepreneurs, we have included Kauffman’s top five policy recommendations below.

 

Top Five Policy Recommendations to Support Women Entrepreneurs

  1. Develop and Report Metrics for Entrepreneurship Programs and Initiatives: To understand how entrepreneurship programming serves women, attendance, participation, drop off rates and entrepreneurial outcomes should be collected and reported by gender. Armed with this information, program coordinators and funders can make adjustments to better assist women entrepreneurs.
  1. Increase the Number of Women Represented in Entrepreneurship Programs: When women are leaders at organizations that support entrepreneurs, they can help develop gender inclusive events that attract women entrepreneurs, as well as use their networks to help women entrepreneurs access mentors and financial capital. And in order to level the playing field for women, they need to be included and have equal representation in successful on-ramps for entrepreneurs.
  1. Increase Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Funding to Women-owned Businesses: In 2012, only 15 percent of SBIR awards went to women-owned businesses. Federal agencies should continue to increase awareness of the availability of these awards by partnering with women’s professional organizations and unifying outreach efforts to women entrepreneurs.
  1. Celebrate Successful Women Entrepreneurs: Stories of entrepreneurial success tend to be male-dominated. Government leaders can help deconstruct the false narrative that only men are successful entrepreneurs by lifting up stories of successful women entrepreneurs.
  1. Decrease the Risk of Becoming an Entrepreneur: Explore how various policies can help alleviate pressures and risks facing women, particularly those with young families, that can deter them from entrepreneurial ventures. For example, policymakers should examine whether subsidized child care or preschool could create a stronger environment for entrepreneurship.

 

Want to learn more about how to support women entrepreneurs? Read the Kauffman Foundation study in its entirety and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #Ent4All.