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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Encouraging women entrepreneurs

Encouraging women entrepreneurs

Whilst Europe does not have enough entrepreneurs following through on their ideas to set up in business, there are, disproportionately, even fewer women than men entrepreneurs. Europe's economy needs more entrepreneurs to take the plunge. The Commission is working with Member States to find ways to overcome the factors which particularly discourage women from taking up the option of entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs - people willing to take the risks and make significant commitments to get a new business off the ground or build on an existing one - are not common enough in Europe. For many reasons, not enough Europeans see running a small business as sufficiently more attractive than working as an employee of a firm, large or small, or in a public organisation. These reasons apply as much to women as to men, but there are certain additional factors which make entrepreneurship an even less attractive or viable option for women (in addition to those factors which count against women in all sections of the labour market).

Although there has been an encouraging upturn in women running businesses in the past decade or so, much more needs to be done to overcome the specific factors which discourage women in particular from starting or taking over small firms. Today women entrepreneurs in Europe are only 30% of all entrepreneurs. And even more importantly, we have to create an environment in which those women who do run a small business can more easily grow their firms.

Study on "Statistical data on Women entrepreneurs in Europe"

The Commission has just published a study on "statistical data on women entrepreneurs in Europe". Data shows that women entrepreneurs constitute 29% of entrepreneurs (11.6 million) in Europe*. Since 2008 there has been a slight increase of 3% of women entrepreneurs in the EU. In Europe women constitute the majority of one person enterprises (78%). The areas of business that women prefer are health and social work activities, services and education.

*EU-28 + Albania, FYROM, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Turkey

To find out more about the study:

Inauguration of the European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs

The European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs has been inaugurated in Warsaw, Poland under a Polish Presidency event on 15 November 2011.European Network Of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs

17 CIP countries will be welcomed to the Mentors Network: Albania, Belgium, Cyprus, FYROM, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Newly appointed mentors representing  each of the 17 countries participating in the Network received diplomas from the European Deputy SME Envoy and Director of  SMEs and Entrepreneurship Ms Joanna DRAKE and the Polish SME Envoy  Ms Gra┼╝yna HENCLEWSKA, Polish Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Economy.

The event was opened by Polish Deputy Prime Minister  Mr Waldemar PAWLAK and was attended by more than 430 women entrepreneurs and relevant stakeholders.

The Network is one of the actions proposed in the 2011 SBA Review and aims at promoting female entrepreneurship in Europe.

The Mentors Network enforces and complements the actions to promote, support and encourage female entrepreneurship that started with the creation of the European Network of Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors (ENFEA) in 2009.


The Mentors Network will provide advice and support to women entrepreneurs on the start-up, running and growth of their enterprises in the early phase of their life (from the second to the fourth year of existence of a new woman-run and owned enterprise).

Press release: Female mentors to help woman entrepreneurs to get started

List of national contacts for the mentor scheme.

Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors

The European Network of Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors was inaugurated on 5 October 2009 in Stockholm during the Swedish Presidency by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Vladimir Špidla, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities and Maud Olofsson Minister of Enterprise, Energy and Communications and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden.

The Network is made up of around 270 entrepreneurs coming from 22 European countries.

Built on the Small Business Act

The Ambassadors’ network is just one of the many initiatives foreseen in the Commission’s 2008 Small Business Act designed to boost the growth of SMEs across Europe.

Other measures on the SBA agenda include a mentoring scheme, and steps to promote entrepreneurship among women graduates.

The Act urges Member States to offer mentoring and support to female entrepreneurs and to exchange good practice. It also makes proposals for legislation: for example, the General Block Exemption Regulation on State Aid (GBER) permits state aid of up to €1 million for new, women-led companies.

Promoting opportunities

business womanMeasures to encourage women to give greater consideration to running small firms, and to make it easier for them to do so, can take many forms. Different Member States have tackled many different aspects of the problems, in a range of ways, but no one Member State has all the answers. And since improving the situation requires so-called 'soft' actions besides legislation, it is an area ideally suited to exchanging good practices and experiences between Member States.

A key problem is access to finance. All entrepreneurs find it difficult to find the investors they need to secure their business, and specific measures are needed to make it easier for women to obtain the funding required for business ventures. And whilst legislative action is appropriate in some areas, in others the main need is to enable women to gain better information. One of the main initiatives the Commission is undertaking is to support networking amongst women entrepreneurs, amongst potential women entrepreneurs, and amongst government agencies and other support organisations which can play a role in encouraging women entrepreneurs.

A study was undertaken by the Commission in 2008 on women innovators and entrepreneurship.

The aim of the study was to perform a literature review for informing new policies and actions in the promotion of women's innovators/inventors' entrepreneurship. In addition, the study provided policy recommendations with a view to promote entrepreneurship of women innovators/inventors as a way to reach the goals of the Lisbon Agenda.

The study shows that women's obstacles to innovative entrepreneurship are of 3 types:

  1. Contextual obstacles: educational choices, traditional views and stereotypes about women, science and innovation;
  2. Economic obstacles: innovation sector requiring substantial investment and women being seen less credible financially than men;
  3. Soft obstacles: lack of access to technical scientific and general business networks, lack of business training, role models and entrepreneurship skills.

Advice and support

The Commission has already opened a Women’s Entrepreneurship Portal, with links to contacts, events and networking opportunities within and between Member States. While the European Network to Promote Women’s Entrepreneurship (WES) brings together government representatives from 30 European countries to provide advice, support and information for female entrepreneurs, helping them to raise their profile and expand their businesses. It publishes an annual report of activity by national governments.

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