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.


Unleashing Entrepreneurship in Africa: Solutions for the World

At the core of the Foundation’s “Unleashing Entrepreneurship” pillar is the belief that startups—and entrepreneurial approaches—play a key role in tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. We’ve put that belief into practice by supporting promising initiatives that bring business to the problem-solving table and catalyze strong entrepreneurial ecosystems in the U.S. and abroad.

We’ve seen first-hand the role that a business approach can play in unleashing innovative new ideas and providing scalable models for change all over the world through a number of organizations and initiatives we’ve supported, including: the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership’s investment in entrepreneurs in the West Bank; Water for People’s efforts to leverage community-based entrepreneurs to provide access to clean water and sanitation in the developing world; and Startup America Partnership and UP Global’s development of strong entrepreneurial ecosystems. We’re also focused on building the impact investing movement, which we believe will catalyze a significant wave of new capital to companies that will not just benefit their shareholders, but society as a whole. The Foundation’s most recent exploration has been in launching an Inclusive Entrepreneurship initiative that confronts rising inequality and taps into the fuller entrepreneurial potential of communities and countries (including all backgrounds and locations) to get beyond those who traditionally have easier access to entrepreneurship and lift up women- and minority-owned businesses.

It is for all of these reasons that we are excited to participate in the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) taking place in Nairobi, Kenya later this week. We are thrilled to join the event as part of Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker’s official delegation. Our CEO, Jean Case, will moderate a panel on “Women Entrepreneurs” and will judge the GES “Women + Youth Day” seminal event—a pitch competition with financial and mentorship capital prizes. The Case Foundation is proud to contribute to both aspects of the prize pool. Steve Case, who will be participating in his capacity as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE), is moderating a panel on “Getting Ready for Growth” featuring groundbreaking entrepreneurs and investors, including fellow PAGE member Brian Chesky from Airbnb.

There is plenty of excitement over the fact that this year’s summit in Nairobi is the first GES taking place in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past few years, we’ve continued to hear about the shift from aid dollars to investment flowing to the continent, expressed by the familiar refrain that “Africa is open for business.” That is why in addition to our time at GES, we are excited to spend time in Nairobi, as well as in Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria exploring these emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems over the next few weeks.

In each city, we will have the opportunity to visit with some of the organizations we’ve supported in Africa over the years (including Sanergy in Nairobi), spend time at accelerators like the iHub, HubAccra and Co-Creation Hub and participate in panel discussions with leading African entrepreneurs and investors. We expect to learn more about the unique aspects that make each city’s entrepreneurial scene tick—from social entrepreneurs tackling challenges like energy and sanitation in Nairobi, to the fashion-savvy hub of Accra and the e-commerce revolution in Lagos.

Most of all, we are excited about spending time with the entrepreneurs—with special attention given to women entrepreneurs and social enterprises—who are at the heart of driving innovation in each of these cities. In addition to site visits with some of the continent’s fastest growing companies like M-Kopa in Nairobi, Andela and ACE in Lagos and the Cadling Fashion Factory in Accra, we will host a pitch competition in each city. A set of the most promising young startups in each region will vie for an investment prize of at least $25,000 from Jean and Steve Case, matched by local and international investors.

We can’t wait to hear the stories of these entrepreneurs who are working on game changing solutions not just for Africa, but also for the world, and sharing those stories along the way. Be sure to follow along via Twitter @CaseFoundation and #CaseAfrica, as well as via our personal Twitter handles: @AllieB, @SHerrling and @Broksas.

A New Path forward for UP Global

At the Case Foundation and Revolution, we have long been supporters of the idea that unleashing the power of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial approaches is crucial to drive innovation, accelerate economic growth, create jobs and solve big, intractable problems. That’s why we’ve invested directly in entrepreneurs, supported programs like the US-Palestinian Partnership (and as a result the creation of a venture capital fund in the West Bank) and created initiatives like the Startup America Partnership and Rise of the Rest. And it’s why I’ve served, and continue to serve, in leadership roles for efforts like the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.

In May of 2013, we supported the creation of a new organizationUP Global, which represented the combined power of the rapidly growing Startup Weekend and the Startup America Partnership, which we co-created alongside the Kauffman Foundation. I’ve been proud to serve as chair of UP Global as the organization seeks to leverage grassroots communities to create and nurture entrepreneurial ecosystems in the U.S. and around the world. Since that time, the UP Global organization has continued to expand – nearly doubling the presence of Startup Weekend, which in 2014 held 905 events in 501 cities (in 135 countries), and introducing new programming like Startup Week, bringing together 18,000 attendees in places like Columbus, Phoenix, Manila and Stockholm. You can learn more about the organization’s growth in its most recent impact report, available here.

Today, UP Global has taken an important next step in the future of the organization by becoming a part of Techstars, an organization that has played a key role in identifying high-potential entrepreneurs and bringing the power of the ecosystem to help them grow. The merger will combine two powerful entrepreneurial networks with closely aligned missions. It is our hope that the efforts of UP Global will continue to gain momentum, further extending its global footprint and reaching more people in more places.

The Startup Weekend, Startup Next, Startup Digest and Startup Week programs will remain under the Techstars umbrella, and while much of the groundwork and principles established by the Startup America Partnership efforts will continue within a number of Techstars programs, the brand will not. At the Case Foundation, we continue to see an opportunity for an effort focused specifically on the role of entrepreneurship to drive American innovation, and as a result we have retained the Startup America Partnership brand. We have begun to explore opportunities for future Startup America programming, and will have more to share in the coming months.

In the meantime, please join us in congratulating the UP Global and Techstars team as they forge a new path ahead for entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world.

Powering Entrepreneurship with Inclusion

At the Case Foundation, we believe that entrepreneurship is powerful driver of innovation, economic growth, job creation, and solutions to big, intractable problems at a global and local scale. But as we look at the increasing inequality – economic and digital divides – we have begun to explore how to tap into the fuller entrepreneurial potential of communities and countries – all backgrounds and all locations. We’ve also begun to explore the notion of catalyzing a movement in inclusive entrepreneurship built upon the theory of change that diversity breeds innovation and innovation breeds business (financial and social) success. There are a lot of ways to define “inclusive” entrepreneurship. To us, it means getting beyond those who traditionally have easier access to entrepreneurship and thinking about how to lift up—women- and minority-owned businesses, businesses that are funding good jobs for the community, and social enterprises that are committed to financial and social returns.

As part of our exploration phase, the Case Foundation team, led by our CEO Jean Case, returned to New Orleans to dive deeper into the entrepreneurship ecosystem there. Through our work with the collective impact organization, Forward Cities, we have been fortunate enough to meet entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders in New Orleans, Durham, Detroit and Cleveland who are committed to utilizing entrepreneurship to build their economies. Our team has spent the past six months listening and learning about the concept of Inclusive Entrepreneurship and we have emerged from this period of exploration even more convinced of the power of inclusion.

Our time in New Orleans was spent learning about the rebuilding of the city as we approach the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and meeting with on-the-ground ecosystem builders who are using the power of inclusivity to create thriving entrepreneurship communities.

We want to extend a warm thank you to our partners on the ground in New Orleans who shared their approaches to inclusive entrepreneurship and walked us through their city and their work while we were there. Accelerators like PowerMoves and Propeller, along with ecosystem builders like Greater New Orleans, Inc., and advocates like former New Orleans Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer have seen the value in democratizing entrepreneurship and are actively creating a more inclusive New Orleans.Photo May 08, 11 09 39 AM

And we ended our visit with a full house at NoBic, as part of the Rise of the Rest road trip, featuring the importance of diversity and inclusion in rebuilding and growing New Orleans through entrepreneurship. Jean Case led a dynamic conversation with star innovator Beth Galante and ecosystem builders Earl Robinson and Tim Williamson. It is leaders like these who are breaking down barriers and bringing the power of inclusivity to the forefront of the New Orleans entrepreneurship landscape.

And how wonderful to see the power of inclusive entrepreneurship pay off, with PowerMoves-backed entrepreneur Crystal McDonald and her company GoToInterview, win the Rise of the Rest pitch competition and a $100,000 investment.

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The conversation on diversity and inclusion continues to grow. It is clear that if we want to build up our cities and grow our economies, we need to follow in New Orleans’ footsteps and level the playing field to bring more people to the table and maximize the full potential of local, national and global talent to building the companies that are going to change the world.

When a B Corp Goes Public, Can Social Outcomes Keep Pace with Profits?

Etsy is the online marketplace where independent artisans and consumers come together to buy and sell unique goods, and connect over shared tastes and visual inspiration. This B Corporation promotes both the virtues of individuality and positive social outcomes and is the focus of this week’s spotlight on Social Enterprise from the Case Foundation and, in partnership with ImpactAlpha.

What’s so special about this company? Founded in Brooklyn, NY, in 2005, Etsy is an online network that connects entrpreneurs with customers whom they otherwise would not be able to access. As noted on its website:

“The heart and soul of Etsy is [their] global community: the creative entrepreneurs who use Etsy to sell what they make or curate, the shoppers looking for things they can’t find anywhere else, the manufacturers who partner with Etsy sellers to help them grow and the Etsy employees who maintain and nurture our marketplace.”

Over the last 10 years, Etsy has grown to become a global force with nearly 700 employees and nearly 30 million items currently available to purchase. It has a network of,19.8 million active buyers—representing nearly every country in the world, and 1.4 million active sellers, of which approximately 88 percent are women. All of these figures add up to a company that earned nearly $200 million in revenue in 2014. Although Etsy has yet to become profitable, the company has not stopped from pushing itself to achieve greater growth. In fact, on March 4, 2015, Etsy became the second B Corp to file for an initial public offering (IPO).

Through its IPO, Etsy will be able to raise up to $100 million in investments, creating an opportunity through which they will hopefully establish profitability. Of the more than 1,200 B Corps, they will be only the fourth with publicly traded stock and only the second to file as a current B Corp.

In considering all of the implications of Etsy’s IPO announcement and similar moves from social enterprises, one question has surfaced: “Will these corporate evolutions undermine companies’ social benefit objectives and vice versa, will commitments to better social outcomes undermine current shareholder profits?”

Hopefully companies like Etsy are the beginning of a larger trend that will continue to expand. As consumer interests align with social and environmental concerns, and large corporations are rewarded for committing to improving their impact while turning competitive profits for shareholders, we could see a greater number of large corporations join the B Corp movement. Similarly, it is exciting to see more B Corps like Etsy, Rally Software and Warby Parker experience the kind of growth that allows them to mature and seek greater profits and influence.

In this week’s article on, we explore the potentially conflicting priorities that face impact companies like Etsy. What does it mean for a social enterprise to have the dual pressures of competing to attract investors through profit seeking and maintaining their social commitments? Will they prove that their social good mission doesn’t detract from profit but can actually boost revenues by driving marketing and customer loyalty?

Entrepreneurship and Inclusive Economics: Two Forces of Good

Four years ago, Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton declared, “the world will be led with economic force – a force that is primarily driven by job creation and quality GDP growth….the coming world war is an all-out global war for good jobs.” Today, economists and politicians alike generally agree that job creation and inclusive growth (growth that is shared across income groups) is the #1 issue to resolve – not only to restore America’s global economic standing but also to restore the American Dream of equal opportunity. Inclusive economics and entrepreneurship were central themes in President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, and top Republicans are increasingly talking about issues of inequality and wealth gap.

We have work to do to restore the American dream and to restore America’s standing in the world. Pew research shows median household wealth declined 39.4% from 2007 to 2010. Median net worth of American families has held stable through 2013, but we can’t be satisfied with this as the new normal. How can we move towards an increase? And how, particularly, can we make that growth inclusive by closing the current gap between whites earning 17 times more than blacks, the lowest point since 1989?

I spent the last 20 years working on issues of global poverty and international development. I sat on many panels that ended with this question: what is the most important thing the U.S. can do to reduce global poverty? And my answer was and remains the same: First, fix and grow our own country’s economy by driving new business, unlock capital and create new and lasting jobs; support and reward R&D and innovators and experimenters in every field coming up with new and bold ways of tackling the world’s most pressing challenges. Second, make sure the American dream – equality of opportunity – remains real. It is universal value that inspires all people everywhere.

This year, our Case Foundation team, is building up a pillar of work we call “Unleashing Entrepreneurship.” At the root of that pillar is a belief in the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives, create good jobs, rebuild the middle class, uplift struggling communities and close the opportunity gap that exists for too many. And that belief holds whether we are talking about New Orleans, Detroit or Nairobi – creating enduring jobs is perhaps the greatest antidote to poverty and hopelessness which erodes the very fabric of the tightly-knit communities the world needs to prosper.

As I’ve been trying to put words to my own beliefs in this space, I have found a kindred spirit in Jim Clifton who said: “If you were to ask me, from all the world polling Gallup has done for more than 75 years, what would fix the world – what would suddenly create worldwide peace, global wellbeing, and the next extraordinary advancements in human development, I would say the immediate appearance of $1.8 billion formal jobs. Nothing would change the current state of humankind more.” I encourage folks to read his book The War for Good Jobs, or at least this excerpt, and his thoughts on how to tackle this one city at a time.

Others have explored how we can clear the path to entrepreneurship for not only our generation, but for those to come. Here are some other pieces that have inspired me. I hope they do the same for you as we work to create more vibrant communities, a stronger America and a more prosperous global economy.

While we are in explorer mode finding a Case Foundation niche in this space, I invite you to share your thoughts – what inspires you? Tell us on Twitter by tagging @CaseFoundation and using the hashtag #CFblog or send me an email

Can Startups Save the American Dream?

Last year, I traveled more than 1,800 miles to witness first-hand the role that entrepreneurs are playing in reviving local economies and driving innovation in cities throughout the heart of America. I’m thrilled to see that the rest is certainly rising in places like Pittsburgh, which is taking advantage of its Steel City roots to usher in a new era of engineering and robotics innovation, or Cincinnati capitalizing on the iconic brands that call the city home to build the next generation of consumer companies. Or in Nashville, where startups are capitalizing on the city’s health care heritage to create new kinds of digital health and wellness companies, or St. Louis, which is emerging as a hub of innovation for agtech (agricultural technologies) and bioscience. But at a time when the opportunity gap is growing and the divisions in communities seem to be widening, we can’t forget that entrepreneurs can – and must – also play a role in creating pathways for all, and in helping to rebuild America’s shrinking middle class.

So when the University of Virginia approached me to help answer the question, “Can Startups Save the American Dream?” I jumped at the opportunity. While we’ve known for some time that young companies are responsible for a majority of new jobs created in the past several decades, less is known about the role that startups can play in creating jobs specifically for the middle class. Over the past several months, I, along with fellow co-chair Carly Fiorina and a dozen entrepreneurs, policy experts, thought leaders and journalists, have served on a commission organized by the Milstein Symposium at UVA’s Miller Center to explore innovative, yet practical, ideas on how to create and sustain middle-class jobs through entrepreneurship.

I’ve long said that entrepreneurs are the secret sauce of America – building not only iconic companies but entire industries. Historically, entrepreneurship hasn’t always been about the next big exit, but rather about creating pathways to the middle class and attaining the American Dream. And entrepreneurs must again be at the heart of rebuilding the American economy. There are many encouraging signs: as a nation we have created more than 10.9 million jobs over the last 57 months (the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record); the stock market is at an all-time high with the Dow Jones above 18,000 points; our high-school graduation rates are the highest they have ever been and more students are earning post secondary degrees than ever before; and policy reforms like the American Jumpstarting Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which creates better access to capital and incentivizes investment in young companies, were implemented.

At the same time, the income gap continues to widen, and not enough people are feeling the impact of the economic rebound. Too many people are still without jobs. And some of the data show a troubling slowdown in both new company starts and the rate at which young companies are creating new jobs. A 2014 study by Brookings shows that businesses are closing at a higher rate than being created for the first time in 30 years of data. This decline in business dynamism is happening universally across all U.S. regions. Kauffman research on entrepreneurial activity found that the rate of business creation declined from .30 percent of adults in 2012 to .28 percent of adults in 2013 continuing the downward trend from 2011.

It is with this backdrop that our Milstein Commission worked to develop recommendations for new ways to boost America’s entrepreneurial energy and provide new pathways for creating middle class jobs. We’re thrilled to unveil the following five recommendations in a new report out this morning:

Unlock Capital for Main Street Entrepreneurs

Programs like the Community Reinvestment Act and increased Community Development Financial Institution Investments (CDFIs) can provide access to critical sources of capital that entrepreneurs need to launch, sustain or scale their operations.

Accelerate impact investing through program-related investments (PRIs)

Impact investing can help transform and advance the middle-class through contributions to innovations in areas such as healthcare, energy and education, all important for middle-class households. Expanding awareness and accessibility of PRIs capital pools can encourage more impact investing among foundations and mainstream investors.

Build a Regulatory Roadmap

Starting and maintaining a business can be overwhelming with numerous rules and regulations to navigate. A “Regulatory Roadmap” can help entrepreneurs navigate the landscape and encourage regulators to streamline their processes.

Empower the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders

Many children have an entrepreneurial spirit to tackle the world’s problems and think outside the box, but by the time they go through school, all those instincts change. Creating a national competition for students at the K-12 level can help to energize students’ interest and expose them to entrepreneurial thinking and the possibility of taking the path to becoming an entrepreneur.

Equip civic leaders to build entrepreneurial ecosystems

Creating an “Ecosytem-in-a-Box” will give community and civic leaders the tools and knowledge to foster a thriving entrepreneurial community and boost their local economies.

It’s also important to note what we mean when we talk entrepreneurship. When you say the word “startup,” what comes to mind for many are technology and Internet companies. Tech companies have indeed been the source of invaluable innovation and job creation, but have also in some cases been job destroyers. The young companies that will rebuild our middle class will be those that focus on creating real jobs, not just on creating monetary value. Take Revolution Foods, for example – as a result of its mission to provide healthy school lunches, the company has created nearly two thousand middle class jobs in cities across the country.

Later this morning, Carly and I will join our fellow commissioners and Steve Clemons from The Atlantic at the Halcyon House to discuss these recommendations with a group of stakeholders from the government, corporate, nonprofit and entrepreneurial communities. We hope you’ll join us online via the livestream at: 10:30am via.

Our hope is to spark not just a dialogue, but collaborative action in moving these ideas forward as we seek to accelerate entrepreneurship and as a result create more onramps to achieve the American Dream. And, we need more spaces like the Midtown Global Market that I visited in Minneapolis, which empowers aspiring low income and immigrant entrepreneurs to start their own businesses – enabling people like Enrique, the owner of La Loma Tamales in the Global Market, to build what could be the next Chipotle. I encourage you to read the report HERE, share your thoughts with us #FutureofEnt and join us in taking action.

Make a difference – Be a Presidential Innovation Fellow

Yesterday the White House announced its second round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows. This new program started last year to pair some of the greatest innovators from the private sector, nonprofits, and academia with the best innovators in government. The goal is to make a change in government. This includes work such as the Open Data Initiatives, an innovative project trying to make government data more computer readable and easy to access; RFP EZ, making it easier for the government to do business with small, high-growth tech companies; or Disaster Response and Recovery, building and “pre-positioning” needed tech tools ahead of future emergencies or natural disasters to mitigate economic damage and save lives during disasters. Check out all of the new projects here.

One of the greatest needs in the world is to find, retain, and work with the best talent to make a difference. The Innovation Fellows program recognizes the importance of pairing talent (internally and externally) and rapidly working to create prototypes of solutions and iterating to make the product work better. The government is making a difference. The Fellows are making a difference, and together they are changing the way government operates for its citizens.

Started by U.S. Chief Technoogy Officer Todd Park, a well-known innovator and entrepreneur, the Innovation Fellows is one the many great ways the Administration is supporting entrepreneurship within government and affecting social change. The Office of Science and Technology Policy along with the Office of Social Innovation are changing the way we think about government and the way government does business. We need to support them.

I hope that talented women and men will apply for the Innovation Fellows program. It is an incredible way to make a real difference that will affect many lives. It is a great way to see how government operates and a real opportunity to meet some of the amazing talent that works in government. If you want to be more innovative and find collaborative ways to solve some big problems – why not work in government!