Universities, nonprofits all over world celebrate women entrepreneurs

Universities all over the U.S. and in more than a dozen countries including Lebanon, Thailand, Kosovo, Australia, South Africa, Spain and Romania shined a light on women entrepreneurs the third week of October as part of the fourth annual Women Entrepreneurship Week.

While these universities have many differences, they were united in their desire to recognize and motivate female founders, while also galvanizing the next generation of women entrepreneurs.

Princeton University participated in WEW for the third year because it hopes to continue to inspire and empower women to discover their own entrepreneurial potential.

“Though a significant gender gap in the number of business owners, founders, and leaders still exists, we are doing our part to try to narrow this gap,” said Stephanie Landers, program manager for Princeton’s Keller Center. “Through a growing network of entrepreneurs, alumni, and entrepreneurial faculty, we seek to provide women entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to build their confidence as they build their enterprises. Princeton University is excited to highlight the successes and accomplishments of women entrepreneurs this week, and every week.”

On the other side of the world, The University of Newcastle in Australia was motivated to join the movement because of its active regional innovation ecosystem that supports startups and entrepreneurial endeavours within Newcastle and the wider Hunter region in New South Wales.

“Our city is transitioning from a traditional industry base into new technology and innovation-based industries, and we see entrepreneurial women as critical to the development of the city. The opportunity to celebrate their activities in achievement in partnership with other cities across the globe was of immediate interest, as it connects our activities to a global network of activities,” said Johanna MacNeil, an assistant dean in the university’s business school.

In four years, Women Entrepreneurship has grown from a brainstorming session in a cubicle at Montclair State University in New Jersey into an international celebration. The first year, four north Jersey universities held events to recognize women entrepreneurs in October 2014. In 2015, WEW spread all over the Garden State, before going global in 2016. The movement continues to grow. In 2017, there were 76 universities and nonprofits involved with WEW events in 15 countries and 22 states in the U.S.

Women continue to be under-represented as business owners — outnumbered nearly 2 to 1 by men, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Yet these women-owned ventures tend to employ fewer people, receive less venture capital, and are not as growth-oriented as enterprises founded by men. The numbers are even more disheartening among tech startups, with ownership by women falling under 10 percent. Read any research paper or news article on why more women don’t become entrepreneurs, and a lack of female role models in the startup space is nearly always mentioned as one reason. A major aim of Women Entrepreneurship Week is to connect successful female founders with college-age women all over the globe, whether at HUTECH in Ho Chi Min City or Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Whatever the GPS coordinates, the WEW programs range from an all-day conference for hundreds at Montclair State to something as simple and intimate as a woman entrepreneur speaking to a class of students.

Spelman College in Atlanta hosted a speed mentoring session for students to engage with alumnae entrepreneurs one-on-one so the young women can “meet role models who have a proven track record of contributing to the growth of women entrepreneurs and making a positive impact on the economy and the community; gain valuable insight into entrepreneurship, in particular from a woman’s perspective; and build a supportive network,” according to Jane E. Smith, vice president for College Relations and executive director of the Leadership Center at Spelman.

At Texas State, several departments and programs all over campus were involved in their WEW event.

“Entrepreneurship is not just found in the College of Business. Entrepreneurs come from all departments across campus,” said Jana Minifie, a management professor and director of the service-learning program. “There is a synergy that happens when we bring students/participants from different disciplines together to work on entrepreneurial activities. It is important that we keep the conversation open between disciplines so that collaborations can be formed to increase the success of our startups.”

With headlines highlighting a gender gap and poor attitudes toward women in some industries, it has become even more crucial for young women to hear, see and interact with accomplished role models who look like them, making Women Entrepreneurship Week a much-needed forum.

“Given the recent rash of news stories about the questionable treatment of young women working for Silicon Valley startups, we need to support young women who aspire to be entrepreneurs more than ever,” said Susan Scherreik, founding director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Seton Hall, who also emphasized the importance of bringing role models to campus.

In fact, women of any age could use the inspiration, which is why Women Entrepreneurship Week is no longer limited to academia.

Pakistan was represented when Karchi-based Adorn Online, which trains and increases access to markets for a network of women artisans, held an exhibition during WEW. Adorn considered WEW to be another avenue — through universities — to connect the women it supports with the global marketplace.

“Living in an interconnected world, it is very important for smaller businesses to network with others that are working in the same field to share contacts, networks, ideas and learn and grow from each other’s experiences in different settings,” said Najia A. Siddiqui, director, Adorn Online. “Connections with universities are important in order to spread awareness about the work being done and to garner feedback and support for women entrepreneurs who face a multitude of difficulties when starting their own business.”

While women may seem to be the natural drivers of the female-focused WEW, men like Mark Quinn, entrepreneurship chair at Xavier University of Louisiana, are also leading the way.

“Men should support WEW because more successful entrepreneurs create more opportunities and build stronger communities, which benefit everybody,” said Quinn, adding Women Entrepreneurship Week fits with the historically black Catholic university’s mission to prepare leaders for a more just and humane society.

“This includes tapping and supporting entrepreneurial talent, including women who not only comprise half of the population but also have been traditionally hampered in their entrepreneurial endeavors,” said Quinn. “The situation is particularly daunting for women of color, who make up more than half of Xavier’s student population. It’s important for us at Xavier to expose our students to women entrepreneurs so they may see how others have done it, and how they can do it.”

Learn more: WomenEntrepreneurshipWeek.com