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Points of View:

Regional partner networks shape the future

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Women who own or manage small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and women scientists and technologists have a key role to play in the future of Europe's regional economies. However, it is vital that these female innovators gain access to international networks and other like-minded people in Europe. WomEn2FP6 broke new ground by helping to create transnational clusters of women entrepreneurs. Now WE-Mentor is taking it even further.

Female entrepreneurs account for 30% of all SMEs in Europe, yet there are disproportionately fewer women than men working in collaborative research within Europe. Why?

'Once they realise the potential of a framework programme, experience shows that they are just as likely as men to succeed. But many of them lack the self-confidence to grow their businesses through international collaboration,' says WomEn2FP6's Project Coordinator, Dr Petra Püchner, Managing Director of Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum der Steinbeis Stiftung für Wirtschaftsförderung.

Perhaps establishing more gender-specific role models may be one answer for attracting more women-led SMEs into European research. 'Those who ran SMEs and had EU project experience played an important part as role models, and in providing valuable feedback. However, there were too few of them,' adds Dr Püchner.

WomEn2FP6 also pointed out that although networking comes naturally to women, they often approach it in a different way to men. Women are more likely to form women-only networks based around family life, self-employment or career development. Maybe it's also regional partner networks which hold the key to the future for women researchers.

Over 100 regional partners supported WomEn2FP6's activities by disseminating information, hosting training sessions, or signposting women entrepreneurs to project partners. Over 800 women entrepreneurs from 10 countries were involved in the project's European research training activities, which ran over 18 months. This number of participants far exceeded the expected number (of 450). Ultimately, over 5 500 women were identified and invited to training and events during the project's duration. 'This demonstrates the effectiveness of such networks as a way of accessing women entrepreneurs,' says Dr Püchner.

So, in summary, if European research wishes to benefit from female entrepreneurs, the following should be kept in mind.

  • Examples speak louder than words.
  • EU research must be presented simply and in a way that highlights the economic benefits.
  • Provide enough time for risk evaluation and planning.
  • Don't expect quick decisions.
  • Implement regional networks


Women innovators and entrepreneurship study

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. For further information visit the following web sites:

Encouraging women entrepreneurs

European network to Promote Women's Entrepreneurship (WES)

Women's Entrepreneurship Portal