Last week, I wrote an article which talked about U.S entrepreneurship being at a 40-year low. Research suggests that there are are some seeds of growth and the latest studies have highlighted that female entrepreneurship will provide one of the best routes to future business success.

Let's be honest: To date, there has been a huge gender disparity between the number of startups, particularly in the tech industry. We can all easily reel off names like Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk, Gates, Jobs, Branson, Dell, Gates, and Cuban. In contrast, a list of today's top 25 entrepreneurs compiled by Ranker features only two women: Oprah Winfrey and Vera Wang.

Given that 2018 has been cited as the 'Year of the Woman,' it's clearly time for these kinds of lists to become far more gender representative.

Things are developing, albeit slowly. Statistics from the University of New Hampshire 'Centre For Venture' annual reports show that prior to 2014, the number of women seeking angel investment was fairly static at around 15 percent of the total. There was a spike in 2014 with that figure rising to around 19 percent and the current estimate is that female-owned ventures accounted for circa 23 percent of the entrepreneurs that were seeking angel capital. 

That's clearly a significant improvement, but women are still massively under represented. Megan Smyth, CEO and co-founder of FitReserve summarized this succinctly when I asked her about it: "While the numbers are growing, there are still too few female investors and startup entrepreneurs, which can make it more challenging to raise capital and find mentors."

So why have there been so few female entrepreneurs over the years? There are three key reasons:

  1. Jobs for the boys. It's an uncomfortable truth but entrepreneurship has always been male-dominated. 94 percent of the decision makers at venture capital firms are men. This male dominance has a clear knock-on effect for the next two points.
  2. Support seeking. According to an Inc.com article by my fellow columnist Lisa Calhoun, 48 percent of female founders reported a lack of suitable mentors and advisors for their business because they cannot find male mentorship that can provide the right kind of counsel for them or their business venture.
  3. Business-family balance. We all seek a work-life balance, but generally entrepreneurs don't start their ventures until they reach their 30s--which often coincides with starting a family or having young children. The notion of the Mompreneur is well-established now, but brings its own distinct and difficult challenges.

It's not all doom and gloom. According to statistics from the National Association of Women Business Owners, there are now 9.4 million firms owned by women in the U.S, employing 7.1 million people and generating almost $1.5 billion in sales. 

So what can women do to try and overcome the barriers and become a successful entrepreneur? Carla Harris, the chair of the National Women's Business Council (NWBC), offers this advice:

"Women entrepreneurs should leverage the resources already in place, as there are a plethora of supports across the country specific to women business owners. In a thriving ecosystem, there are in-person and virtual incubators and accelerators, SBA resource partners such as SCORE, Women Business Centers and Small Business Development Centers, as well as online educational resources that provide powerful knowledge throughout the business lifecycle"

Harris also advocates leveraging your personal network to find suitable mentorship and also to consider alternative strategies for raising capital such as crowdfunding, micro-loans or angel investors who specifically focus on female entrepreneurs. 

So are you a female entrepreneur trying to get your first break? Have you come across the barriers to entrepreneurship I've mentioned? If so, have they halted your progress? Or what strategies have you employed to navigate around them? As ever, I am keen to hear your thoughts.

Published on: Feb 1, 2018