Tech Talk: Entrepreneurship and the World

While innovators and entrepreneurs often exhibit a required laser focus on their own initiatives, there is a whole wide world of activities taking place. Here are three observations from the Kauffman Foundation after the recent Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC).

When 171 nations gathered in Istanbul, Turkey, to discuss the future of entrepreneurship, it showed that entrepreneurship has moved beyond the fringes of economic development planning. Each country was represented by some officials in the highest levels of their respective governments, emphasizing the importance of the role entrepreneurs play in building stronger economies.

We need to remember that many countries aren’t so fortunate. While at GEC, we spoke with two entrepreneurs from Venezuela. They work aggressively to infuse entrepreneurship into their homeland, and they believe entrepreneurship can transform communities. However, they are facing innumerable obstacles with an economy in disarray and a government not supportive of entrepreneurship, currently making Venezuela one of the toughest countries in which to start a business. For these two entrepreneurs, at least, conditions are so challenging, they run their activities from exile.

We in the United States face countless barriers to take an idea and make it an economic reality. However, we should also be thankful that we have the support of our governments – federal, state, and local.

In the U.S., systemic barriers have left women too far behind in starting and growing enterprises. In 2018, women are still half as likely as men to own employer businesses. That’s unacceptable.

In addition to advancing the Kauffman Foundation’s strategies in reducing barriers for women entrepreneurs, we as an organization have been working on being more aware of our own unconscious bias. One thing that was troubling throughout GEC was how representatives from some countries talked about entrepreneurship. To some, they believe entrepreneurship was a male-only venture. It was even more obvious when those same individuals were on more diverse panel discussions and attempted to dominate the conversation by talking over women panelists. It’s something that we all need to be more alert to and speak up on.

Our nation needs to take note. Other countries are approaching the work of supporting entrepreneurship with a passion and zeal. We can no longer take for granted that the U.S. is on the cutting edge of innovation and change. Countries like Estonia, Congo and the Philippines all see entrepreneurship as a pathway to a better future for their communities and nations. They are working aggressively to support entrepreneurs through coordinated strategies that enhance education, training and eliminate barriers to access of capital and the start-up process.

We need to keep moving forward, and quickly, or others will outpace us. We can do it, but we can’t be complacent in our approach. We must act with intentional urgency.

Still an Uphill Battle for Female Entrepreneurs

Is there an entrepreneurial gender gap? Maybe so, according to some research from the Kauffman Foundation. The State Science & Technology Institute offers this summary:

A recent paper on women entrepreneurs finds that while women are making significant strides in advancing to high rank within corporations, several barriers are keeping them from breaking out to start their own high-growth firms.

Pointing to the untapped potential of women’s contributions to the economy, the author correlates support for women’s entrepreneurship with significant economic expansion and job creation. The types of high-growth firms described in the paper ideally would become prominent niche firms, creating jobs prolifically and serving global or national markets.

Deterring this type of economic growth, however, is an entrepreneurship gender gap. The author finds stark differences in women’s entrepreneurial participation compared to men, especially given their current and projected participation in the workforce. The gap widens even further when looking at growth measures in number of women-owned firms and by revenue. For example, census bureau data indicate that women-owned firms with paid employees grew only 7.6 percent from 1997-2007. In terms of revenue, an American Express OPEN report found women own 1.8 percent of firms with more than $1 million in revenue while men own 6.3 percent.

The paper also describes a study that finds women tend to produce research equal to or slightly better than men’s on average, but female faculty patented their research only about 40 percent of the rate of their male colleagues. Women also tended to rely on formal university conduits to help commercialize research, while more men used connections in private industry. Inviting women to join science advisory boards of high-tech companies would provide more regular exposure to industry that breeds such contacts, according to the author.

Other recommendations include support of networking and collaborative events between startup founders and big companies and greater funding for nonprofit initiatives advancing opportunities for high-growth women entrepreneurs. Additionally, successful women entrepreneurs or inventors should make themselves visible and available.