Sup­port­ing fe­male en­trepreneur­ship ben­e­fits everyone

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Sarita John­ston

WHEN women play a smaller role in grow­ing the econ­omy, we all lose out. Women make up 50pc of the pop­u­la­tion and the fe­male em­ploy­ment rate is more than 55pc. Yet un­til a few years ago, fe­male-led com­pa­nies com­prised 7pc of En­ter­prise Ire­land’s High-po­ten­tial Star­tups group, just like the in­ter­na­tional av­er­age. Fewer fe­male en­trepreneurs meant fewer ideas, less in­no­va­tion and ex­port po­ten­tial. Over the last num­ber of years, En­ter­prise Ire­land de­vel­oped a range of sup­ports specif­i­cally de­signed to en­cour­age fe­male en­trepreneurs, in­clud­ing a ded­i­cated Fe­male Com­pet­i­tive Start Fund, of­fer­ing women en­trepreneurs €50,000 in startup fund­ing. The ini­tia­tive drove the high­est ever num­ber of fe­male-led com­pa­nies backed by En­ter­prise Ire­land in 2016. In ad­di­tion to ac­cess­ing those sup­ports, here are six ar­eas you can fo­cus on to de­velop as a fe­male en­tre­pre­neur.

Fuel your am­bi­tion — women have high lev­els of am­bi­tion for their busi­nesses, set­ting clear tar­gets and goals. But women can also lack con­fi­dence, par­tic­u­larly in fi­nan­cial ar­eas. Aver­sion to debt and a con­ser­va­tive ap­proach to risk-tak­ing can ham­per am­bi­tion. When the first ded­i­cated Fe­male Com­pet­i­tive Start fund was launched to help ad­dress known bar­ri­ers, no one ap­plied for the full amount. The fact the lat­est com­pet­i­tive call had more than 220 ap­pli­cants for 10 places shows the strat­egy is work­ing, with more fe­male en­trepreneurs tak­ing the first step.

Build your skills — ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­grammes, like DCU Ryan Academy Fe­male High Fliers, sup­ported by En­ter­prise Ire­land, tar­get chal­lenges fac­ing fe­male en­trepreneurs and help women to fast track busi­ness devel­op­ment and lead­er­ship skills. By join­ing a pro­gramme, you be­come part of a sup­port­ive group of like-minded fe­male founders. The long-last­ing re­la­tion­ships th­ese pro­grammes foster in the fe­male start-up com­mu­nity have helped achieve big im­prove­ments in just a few years.

Ask — no busi­ness owner knows all the an­swers or has all the skills it takes to suc­ceed. It can be dif­fi­cult to work alone or as part of a small team when start­ing a com­pany. Women can be es­pe­cially re­luc­tant to seek sup­port. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ad­vice. It is im­por­tant to step out­side your com­fort zone and re­mem­ber if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Per­fect your value propo­si­tion — be com­pletely clear about your value propo­si­tion and the prob­lem you are solv­ing. Be clear on your dif­fer­en­tia­tor. You don’t have to use highly tech­ni­cal or sci­en­tific lan­guage, you need to be un­der­stood. Clodagh Ca­vanagh, from Abbey Ma­chin­ery, says your prod­uct or service must have value for the end-user. Know their needs, not what you think they need.

Per­spec­tive changes at­ti­tude — the way you look at some­thing al­ters your ap­proach and at­ti­tude. Think­ing about per­spec­tive al­lows you to un­der­stand in­vestors and cus­tomers bet­ter. When meet­ing an investor, imag­ine what your busi­ness looks like from their per­spec­tive. Ali­son Cowzer, from East Coast Bake­house, ad­vises ask­ing: How much do I want? How will I use it? How much will I re­turn? Think­ing about an­swers from an investor’s per­spec­tive helps you un­der­stand the value of your busi­ness.

Above all, per­se­vere — per­se­ver­ance doesn’t mean stick­ing with your idea at all costs or doggedly pur­su­ing a startup that doesn’t meet the needs of the mar­ket. It means recog­nis­ing you are on an en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney. The startup space can be tough but also re­ward­ing. Aim high and keep go­ing.

While there is still a lot to do, sup­port­ing fe­male en­trepreneur­ship is pay­ing off with con­tin­ued growth of fe­male-led star­tups. Of the 229 star­tups sup­ported by En­ter­prise Ire­land in 2016, 28pc are fe­male-led. More than €5.5m was in­vested in fe­male-led com­pa­nies in 2016, the high­est level in the agency’s his­tory. En­ter­prise Ire­land will con­tinue to sup­port am­bi­tious busi­ness women be­cause di­ver­sity drives per­for­mance, and that ben­e­fits everyone.

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