The economic situation of a country does not explain how entrepreneurial women in that country are, rather the social, cultural and political contexts. That was one conclusion made at a seminar at the House of Sweden, Washington DC, March 15.The seminar was co-hosted by the Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum, the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis/Tillväxtanalys and the Swedish Embassy as part of the program Fabric of Life.
Approximately 45 persons attended the seminar and the breakfast preceding the program, which started by Karin Olofsdotter, Deputy Chief of Mission, welcoming everyone to the Swedish Embassy and this year´s theme—Fabric of Life. Professor Pontus Braunerhjelm, Managing Director of Entrepreneurship Forum, also gave his welcome and Ulrika Stuart Hamilton, Managing Director of Entrepreneurship Forum and moderator for the seminar, set the stage.
Professor Elisabeth Gatewood, Wake Forest University and the 2007 recipient of the Global Award for Entrepreneurship Research, spoke on the title “It´s all about choices (or the lack of)”. She showed that the degree of female entrepreneurship varies greatly between countries. The economic situation of a country does not explain how entrepreneurial women in that country are, rather the social, cultural and political contexts. Professor Gatewood showed interviews with female American entrepreneurs who described the obstacles they have encountered due to their gender, but also the choices they had made in order to be able to combine entrepreneurship and family.
Professor Pontus Braunerhjelm, followed by speaking on “Female Entrepreneurship – Myths and Realities in Sweden”. He presented facts about women’s businesses and start-ups in Sweden, where ~ 30% of Swedish firms and start-ups are operated by females, which is a strong increase from the 1990s. Most of these companies are in the health care sector. Professor Braunerhjelm concluded that opening up the welfare state in Sweden has fostered entry into female entrepreneurship. Entry into entrepreneurship and subsequent successes are dependent on the occupational experiences of the women.
The next speakers were Svetlana Bagaudinova and Sarah Iqbal at the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, who spoke on “Women, Business and the Law, Gender Dimensions of Investment Climate Reform”. They explained how their organization tries to influence laws and regulations in developing countries that differentiate between men and women in ways that may affect women’s incentives and opportunities to start and run businesses. Svetlana Bagaudinova and Sarah Iqbal showed examples from countries where changes to laws, regulations and habits have made female entrepreneurship a possibility to many more women than before.
Charlotte Marcus, Co-Founder of ESI Total Fuel Management, Total Fuel Management Services, Inc based in Virginia, followed and explained the purpose and mission of her company and the reasons why she started it. Charlotte Marcus also gave recommendations to fellow female entrepreneurs when starting companies, the last one being--never give up!
Dr. Cecilia Bergh, Karolinska Institute and founder of Mando Group AB, finished the speaker list by describing her journey as a physician treating an anorexic patient in “Managing eating disorders and obesity”. Mando Group has developed a meter to measure how much a patient eats compared to a normal person, the Mandometer. Cecilia Bergh discussed some of the obstacles she has had in forming her company.
A lively discussion followed the presentations. The observation that women in countries with many wage-jobs and good child care seem less prone to become entrepreneurs than in countries where secure jobs are not as prevalent was discussed. It is common that the first money comes from friends and family when women start companies, not venture capitalists or banks. It was noted that it is harder for women to get response to an idea than it is for men, but when women are present in the venture capital group it is easier for female entrepreneurs to obtain funding. The World Bank is helping banks in developing countries to become more friendly towards women. Many women are intimidated by financing, even by micro-loans, which terms are not always clear. If a viable business model exists in villages that apply to both genders it usually helps women who may become local leaders.
Each speaker concluded the morning with the following words:
Cecilia Bergh stressed that door openers are very important when being an entrepreneur, and that politicians can be door openers. An entrepreneur needs to convince people that new ideas are needed and that costs should be coupled to the effect of the idea.
Svetlana Bagaudinova and Sarah Iqbal described how they receive a lot of interest in promoting female entrepreneurship from arab countries, which do not necessarily appreciate equality between the genders but value female companies.
Charlotte Marcus stated that it is never boring to be an entrepreneur, but there is a challenge to stay focused, innovative and ahead of the competition.
Professor Elisabeth Gatewood stressed that it is important to bear in mind that behind a female entrepreneur is a woman making a choice and that the choices she makes need to be respected. These choices are very much influenced by the culture in which she lives.
Professor Pontus Braunerhjelm summarized by stating that there are a lot of programs underway in order to promote female entrepreneurship. It is important with best practice and to learn from each other.
The seminar was concluded by Ulrika Stuart Hamilton and Pontus Braunerhjelm thanking all the speakers for their interesting presentations and comments, and the audience for being part of the event and engaging in the interesting discussions