A startling statistic from the European Commission: when it comes to European start-ups, 83% of start-up founders are male.
At the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), we want to see more women entrepreneurs: more female ownership of start-ups, and more businesses owned by women. It’s about equality and social inclusion, it is also about a good economic sense and using Europe’s biggest untapped entrepreneurial talent pool - women.
While the rationale for women’s entrepreneurship has traditionally focused on enhancing women’s equality, empowerment and social inclusion, it’s now increasingly viewed as good economic sense, and women entrepreneurs are increasingly being recognised as a powerful economic resource. The European Commission’s report, Women in the Digital Age, demonstrates that female-owned digital start-ups are more likely to be successful, and investment in female-founded start-ups performs better than exclusively male-founded start-ups.
World Bank studies show that women entrepreneurs make significant contributions to economic growth and poverty reduction. What is needed to amplify this effect, is gender aware design and delivery of services and support programmes addressing gender-specific constraints, such as social norms, access to finance, information, training and business networks, institutional arrangements and, last but not least, balancing gender gaps when it comes to household and caring activities.
That’s why the EIT pledges to become stronger ambassadors for women as innovators, encouraging investors to look closely at the market reality, setting aside stereotypes with a fact-based presentation of investment opportunities. We will leverage our resources to support women as they innovate and scale-up, advancing the cause of women as they create, lead and prosper in our modern economy.
Capitalising with Women
According to the European Commission, female entrepreneurs represent only a third of the self-employed in the EU. The EIT is determined to help change this, supporting women as they launch new businesses and capitalise on their novel research, turning ideas into products and services.
We speak a lot about a tech brain-drain in Europe, but we ignore the creative talent of women that is present in our schools, universities, and leading-edge companies. The EIT Community, Europe’s largest innovation network, is mobilising this reservoir of talent, in climate, healthcare, energy, food, raw materials… the list is extensive. Women are the largest untapped innovation, entrepreneurial and leadership potential in Europe. We cannot afford losing them if we want to resolve Europe’s challenges and remain competitive.
EIT powering female innovators
To empower women to become innovators and entrepreneurs we have to start early. That’s why at the EIT we have started running entrepreneurship and digital workshops for young women, aged 12-18. We’re happy to see that women participating in our workshops are empowered to become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, ICT experts and innovators.
It is clear that Europe needs more female role models in innovation and business, and especially in entrepreneurship: championing successful women could encourage girls to envisage their working life differently, choosing entrepreneurship as a career, and moving away from common stereotypes of female professions.
This is the reason why the EIT introduced the ‘EIT Woman Award’, recognising talented and inspiring women entrepreneurs and leaders as part of its annual Awards. Portuguese innovator, Sara Guimarães Gonçalves, was the 2019 winner. Her company, Trigger Systems, reduces the environmental impact of irrigation and agricultural activities in Europe, by tackling the excessive use of water in irrigation through control systems that use calculation models based on weather forecasts and plant conditions. Sara is only one of the many talented and inspiring women entrepreneurs the EIT Community powers on their innovation journey.
And let’s not forget, leadership and gender diversity start in our own homes and workplaces. At the EIT, eight of the twelve Governing Board members are women leaders and 55% of external experts evaluating the EIT Knowledge and Innovation Communities’ business plans are women. Gender diversity drives innovation; diverse perspectives stimulate creativity and lead to better solutions – this is exactly what we need.
Work to do
Such exemplary leadership will be needed: as highlighted in the European Gender Equality Index 2019, the European Union has been moving towards gender equality too slowly: the EU’s score for gender equality is up just one point to 67.4, since 2017, and almost half of all Member States fall below the 60 point mark.The reality is that supporting female-led businesses is good business. Gender diversity makes good economic sense, which is why International Women’s Day is focused on 'Collective Individualism', and why the EIT is highlighting how we can boost women entrepreneurship in Europe - and what this means in a tangible way for individual innovators.
So, this year, International Women’s Day is not just about celebrating and awareness raising, it’s about changing the conditions for growth and taking concrete steps towards it. It’s about changing the image of women in business, in our economy. Renoir understood the need for many small impressions to create a bigger picture – collective individualism. Every point matters. It’s time to paint Europe’s economy with fresh colours, and the EIT has set the scene.