phlox in perspectiveAccelerating Female Entrepreneurial Success through A Sharper Focus on Women

Jonathan Ortman’s August 5th post, “Scaling-Up Female Entrepreneurship,” is a concise, readable, and thorough summary of the current issues surrounding female entrepreneurship in the United States. Ortman starts out with an impressive compilation of statistics on the gender gap in entrepreneurship, with live links to the source data. That alone would justify reading his post. Essentially, what Ortman puts forth is further proof that the gender gap in entrepreneurship persists in the United States, according to a wide variety of metrics and sources. My point is that a sharper, up-close-and-personal focus on success stories and lessons learned by practitioners and entrepreneurs is also needed to balance the eagle-eye view presented by the macroeconomic data. This is best accomplished through more cross-over; both across development specializations, as well as with other sectors. In this spirit, my blog has been dedicated to telling some real-life stories to (hopefully) meaningfully contribute to the body of information and insights on the topic.

One of Ortman’s sources is the Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI). GEDI is the result of a major effort to collect and analyze data on gender inequality as it related to entrepreneurs in a wide variety of countries across the globe. I framed several of my previous posts according to the three characteristics that the authors of the GEDI study used: innovativeness, market-expanding, and export-oriented. My point was to challenge the prevailing notion about entrepreneurship embodied in those characteristics by looking at examples that could be considered exceptions to those “rules.” I continue to stress the importance of avoiding prevalent stereotypes to get beyond the labels.

The lens through which many write about women’s entrepreneurship is that of a policy analyst or academic. Ortman’s post is published on the Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Policy Forum Blog, which looks at women and entrepreneurship through the lens of policy. The GEDI study is conducted by social science researchers, from an academic perspective on the study of gender and entrepreneurship. The GEDI study seeks to inform policy decisions.

Insights from praticioners and entrepreneurs are often lacking. The reason is obvious. Researchers get grants to study the issue and write about it, whereas the doers are often too busy “doing.”  Monitoring and evaluation specialists are employed at the behest of funding entities to review the activities of implementers and grant recipients, to assess the effectiveness of their programs. All these perspectives on female entrepreneurship have merit, and none alone tell the whole story. More stakeholder voices need be heard by a broader audience.

On this colorful canvas, a lot of boundaries need to be crossed. It is difficult balance between a statistically insignificant number of “high-def” case studies and macroeconomic indicators that blur the reality on the ground.

I encounter this dilemma in the technology transfer business. When I’m asked to characterize my institution’s intellectual property portfolio, I can provide statistics on the scientific field or industry application area of the entire database. That might be informative, but it is not actionable. Or, I can provide specific illustrative examples of promising technologies. That may be actionable, but not as broadly informative. I find it more useful to put together both sets of data to provide a more accurate picture. But it is difficult to adjust the “depth of field” to provide both perspective and detail that is both actionable and informative. I am most successful at doing this in industries into which I have “crossed over”. My ‘insider’ experience enables me to put R&D in the perspective of the industry landscape.

In the development space, I think that the depth of field can be better achieved by more cross-over. For example, practitioners like me do a lot of the same value-added things for entrepreneurs – helping them build their companies – as venture capitalists do. I am fortunate to have several close colleagues in VC, and I believe that we are all enriched through our interactions. Development practitioners also do a lot of the evaluation and analyses that policy-people and researchers do. My policy and evaluation friends bring interesting perspective to my work. I could be wrong, but my own perception is that there is an increasing trend toward specialization and fragmentation in development. I don’t want to turn this into a litany of criticism by drawing attention to specific examples.

I think much more can be accomplished by pointing to the positive examples of crossover. I am encouraged when I see more “development” thinking in the private sector: corporate social responsibility has become an essential C-suite management function. “Corporate America” has done a pretty good job so far listening to the development community. Social entrepreneurship is booming. We are in the midst of a new wave of cultural innovations in financing and mentoring. For example, Jonathan Ortman concludes his blog with some thoughts on the potential of alternative sources of funding, including crowdsourcing, which may “democratize capitalism” to the benefit of women’s entrepreneurial ventures. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), likewise, offer the potential for enhanced access to educational resources to build entrepreneurial capacity, globally. These innovations signal to me a healthy cross-fertilization of ideas and blending of macro- and micro-perspective.

It takes an ecosystem to help entrepreneurs innovate, start-up, and scale-up. In this ecosystem, we need to continually adjust our depth of field, to best help female entrepreneurs achieve their greatest potential.


Works Discussed

Ortmans, Jonathan. (2013, August 5). “Scaling-up female Entrepreneurship.” Entrepreneurship Policy Forum Blog. http://www.entrepreneurship.org/en/Blogs/Policy-Forum-Blog/2013/August/Scaling-Up-Female-Entrepreneurship.aspx


One thought on “A Sharper Focus on Women

  1. Pingback: Economic Independence and Social Justice: Two Sides of Women’s Empowerment | Maria Douglass

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