Entrepreneurship Facilitating Gender Equality: A Study on Women- Dedicated Business Incubators.

Incubators have an undeniable influence on the success of startups. Incubators such as Techstars and 500 Startups have accelerated the work of thousands of entrepreneurs, but the global network they have created always has room for expansion. In particular, when conducting research about startup incubators, I was left with the question of “Where do female-led companies stand in this accelerator environment? There is existing literature suggesting the use of female entrepreneurship as a tool to increase gender equality. Business incubators that are solely dedicated to women have been established all around the globe in order to aid in reducing gender inequality through empowering women through entrepreneurship and skill development. They provide new projects and start-ups with various resources needed to launch a new business to success.

Successful female startups like KitSplit and Dezignable rose from such incubators, like in this case, from Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator. And as you can see, so far these incubators have been reaping positive results, increasing female entrepreneurship annually. But researchers Inés Gabarret and Aude D’Andria recognized that more literature was needed on how to distinguish the specific role of women dedicated incubators in the development of women in entrepreneurship.

A study done by Gabarret and D’Andria analyzed a business incubator dedicated to women in France through a qualitative method. Their sample of women entrepreneurs consisted of those in varying stages that fall under the beginning of their start-ups’ creations and are from an environment that is a blend between urban and rural. These twenty-eight women were interviewed either by phone call or in-person to cover several crucial topics. They enlisted the life-story technique, a method that requests the interviewees to answer the questions in a narrative-like way, accentuating their own life stories in the order that comes naturally to them rather than asking overly structured questions. They were then recorded and transcribed in order to analyze them in a standardized with speech analysis and thematic coding.

The results from this study point out various characteristics of what role women-focused business incubators play in the expansion of women in entrepreneurship. Incubators serve as facilitators in that they boost creation and self-confidence. They connect inexperienced women new to the startup world with the successful women who already navigated it, encouraging action And overall, incubators made women feel supported in a way that overcomes the underlying self-doubt felt by many women who needed that initial support from an entity that they had not identified. However, the results also indicated that the incubators had some weaknesses, especially with their lack of emphasis on growth. Only 27% of the interviewees indicated that they thought about growth, and the remaining 72% of the women wanted to keep their operations small. The analysis of the interviews reveals that the lack of preference towards growth stems from the personal attachment developed between the entrepreneurs and their incubator managers that mentor them with their start-up projects. This personal attachment to their managers is equivalent to an attachment to the actual incubator, making it hard to move on to the next step in their project, outside of the incubator. In other words, the women feel it necessary that they continue with the incubator process rather than leave it.

Some recommendations to improve the incubator process made by Gabarret and D’Andria in consideration of their results, are to implement a contractual element and mix with other types of incubators besides business. The contractual element addresses the issue of being unable to leave the incubator process as it would instill the idea that the process is temporary from the beginning, making it less difficult to exit. And mixing the industries in women-dedicated incubators could aid women in smooth transitions between sectors and help increase the number of women in these sectors through creating a more amicable and comprehensive atmosphere and by using those new connections to integrate more women on higher executive boards. Although this study was done in France, its results and proposals made from the results can be implemented in other countries that have established such incubators.

These proposals that will strengthen women-dedicated business incubators will help women take another step towards gender equality through strengthening female entrepreneurship. Female entrepreneurship is the future, the future is female.

Written by: Lynn Deng| IQ Associate

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