Women's entrepreneurial potential is a very much underexploited source of economic growth and new jobs. The fact that women only account for 34.4% of the self-employed in Europe suggests that they need more encouragement to become entrepreneurs. As a source of inspiration and practical advice for women, the European Commission has set up a European Ambassadors’ Network and a European Mentors’ Network. Now it is up to the women themselves to take up the challenge...
As things stand, women account for over half of the population but for only a third of the EU's entrepreneurs. This leaves considerable untapped human potential that is sorely needed to boost economic growth and create the new jobs required in today’s difficult economic climate. If more women can be motivated to start up and lead companies, this could generate growth and jobs across the EU.
The European Commission sees an important economic role for women as is clear from the wording Europe 2020 Strategy for growth and jobs. One of its targets for the year 2020 is a 75% employment rate for women and men aged from 20 to 64 – this will be achieved by getting more people into work, especially women, the young, older and low-skilled people and legal migrants.
Women entrepreneurs take more calculated risks
While European women are at least as well educated as men, only a few decide to set up a company in the fifteen years following their graduation. Lack of take-up can partly be explained by difficulties they encounter in reconciling private and professional activities. In addition, existing business set-up support systems are not always tailored to women’s specific needs. Concerns faced by potential women entrepreneurs include greater difficulty accessing financing, professional networks and training and a possible lack of confidence due to the absence of appropriate role models. Women also tend to be cautious and take more calculated risks, and to focus on creating companies in familiar areas and for which they can benefit from family support. They can fail to take full advantage of networking opportunities and often grow their businesses slowly and only if their family situation allows them to work long hours with a good probability of success. Women therefore require tailor-made support measures when setting up their businesses.
Inspiration and support for would-be women entrepreneurs
The European Commission already provides help in a number of areas to encourage women to become entrepreneurs. A European Network of Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors was set up in 2009, followed by the creation of a European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs in 2011. Female ambassadors can be seen as a first step, providing inspirational role models to encourage women to consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option. But what happens if they are interested but fall by the wayside because they lack support? This is where the second step kicks in, in the form of mentors who give practical advice to women who have recently launched their own businesses.
The EU's forthcoming SME Week 2012 Summit will focus on encouraging women to consider setting up and running their own business, usually a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME).
Helping women entrepreneurs access loans
Securing loans is a major challenge for many small businesses across Europe. So it makes sense that one of the four workshops during the SME Summit will focus on the subject of access to finance for women entrepreneurs.
Speaking during the workshop will be Artemis Toumazi, a Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador and CEO of a cooperative bank set up in Cyprus in 2000. The bank specialises in small loans up to €100 000, with flexible repayment plans, grace periods of up to two years, interest rates of around 4% and the possibility to access funds within 48 hours.
One of the beneficiaries of a loan is a company called Drive and Fly, which looks after, cleans and maintains cars for passengers at Larnaca airport. In addition to a loan of €60 000, the company's Director, Anna Karyda, obtained advice and access to the bank’s professional network.
‘They supported our idea. They encouraged us. They helped us with the company’s business plan, and of course they gave us information when we wanted financing from other financial institutes. They gave us very good information about banking with them and getting financing on good terms from other institutes. That was very important for us,’ says Anna Karyda.
Examples of Successful Women Entrepreneurs
Female technological wizardry
Technology used to be an area largely dominated by men, but this is changing. There are numerous examples of women who are bucking that trend, including Swedish researcher/entrepreneur and Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador Susanne Rostmark, who will be one of the main speakers in a workshop looking at the subject of women in technology-based businesses. Rostmark has patented so-called ‘freeze-dredging’ technology, which is used to bring contaminated sediments and objects up from the sea bed to the surface of the sea by first freezing the segment or object. The technique has been used to lift a Swedish aircraft up from the Baltic Sea. Her next aim is to develop freeze dredging for sludge removal and handling radioactive material.
Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador Katia Marchesin is another woman to have made a mark in the field of technology. She is now the CEO of ADL Ingegneria Informatica, an Italian IT company with twenty employees that was set up in 1995. The company’s customers are mainly SMEs, in particular in manufacturing and sales. Their core business is developing information technologies in areas such as supply management and radio frequency identification tracking. They also produce technologies to help share information on the web, to create e-commerce, to organise online communities, for search engine optimisation, for search engine marketing etc.
Katia Marchesin also acts as a host entrepreneur for the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs Programme. She has already hosted three new entrepreneurs at her company since 2009. Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs is a cross-border exchange programme which gives new or aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to learn from experienced entrepreneurs running small businesses in other European Union countries.
Focus on film
Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador Jane Barnes, the founder of Yakkety-Yak Multimedia Company Ltd, has also found her niche in the world of business. As a child, she had been in stage and film productions. Now she is a producer and director of film shorts and works on a variety of commercial and audio-visual projects with her team, whose services include multimedia training. She is currently also training disabled and disadvantaged people in film techniques. The awards she has won are a testament to her success: Disabled Business Person of The Year Award 2004-2005, Enterprising Women Best Boss Award in 2008 and Women’s Enterprise Champion for the East of England region 2010. She encourages women and other groups in society, including disaffected young people, to consider entrepreneurship as an option using her MIND YOUR OWN BIZNEZ Programme.
Taking the plunge
Entrepreneurship is, by definition, about taking calculated risks. There is no certainty that a business idea will work until someone takes the plunge and tries it out. A good example is Gitta Quercia-Naumann, a Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador who worked for 10 years as a call operator for the German post office.
Her big leap in the dark was in 2001, when, aged 47, she opened her own Spanish restaurant, called Tapas y mas, without any previous experience in the catering sector. In order to stay close to her children she decided to open the restaurant in Engelskirchen — her hometown of 20,000 inhabitants — and not the larger and more certain market of Cologne, only 30 km away.
Gitta Quercia-Naumann has successfully marketed her restaurant so that, even in these difficult economic times, people travel from far and wide to enjoy her food. Today she is still one of the few tapas specialists in Germany and she is often invited to discuss her business methods at cooking shows and exhibitions.
Teaching women business skills
Barcelona’s School of Entrepreneurship for Women shows just how far education in entrepreneurship can pay dividends. The school was set up by Barcelona Activa, Barcelona City Council’s Local Development Agency. At the school, women take part in training courses, including business counselling and learning marketing tools, and they receive personalised advice.
In the 27 years that the school has been up and running, it has trained 4 700 women, of whom 48% have created their own company. Of these 48%, 61% have created a company in the technology/communications sector, 27% have created a company in the service sector and 12% have created a company in the tourism sector. Would-be women entrepreneurs are supported in their efforts to develop their business plan, keep track of its objectives and put it into practice.