New accelerator looks to get women entrepreneurs flying high

20 Jan 2014

(Left to right) Lisa Harlow, Intel; Jean O'Sullivan, Enterprise Ireland; Ann Horan, CEO, DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs; Claire Reynolds, Vodafone Ireland; and Jordan Campbell, The Ireland Funds. Photo by Maxwell Photography

A new programme, the Female Propeller Programme for High Fliers, at DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs wants to help female entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.

The Female Propeller Programme for High Fliers will bring up to 10 start-ups led by female entrepreneurs through a four-month course to help fast-track their businesses, develop leadership skills and achieve scale.

It’s aimed at start-ups with high growth potential which are led by women, explains Ann Horan, CEO of DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship, who describes why the Dublin academy is launching a programme to focus specifically on women.

“We have run Propeller, a very successful accelerator programme for high technology start-ups for three years now and we noticed that nearly all of the applications were from men,” she says. “We have also been reviewing statistics, such as those from the 2011 GEM report, which highlighted the fact that in Ireland men were 2.5 times more likely than women to set up a new business, and of even greater concern was the statistic which showed that at the early set-up stage, men were nine times more likely than women to have ambitions to scale their business.”

Removing the barriers to take-off

A women-only version of the Propeller programme could help to redress the balance, according to Horan, but in order to design it the academy needed to identify the barriers that female entrepreneurs tend to face.

“Some of these things we knew already, and others we discovered through our research – talking to people, reading the literature, consulting with international groups such as ASTIA (US), the Angel Academe (UK) and Startup Chile,” she says.

So what barriers jumped out? Some are not exclusive to women entrepreneurs, notes Horan, such as a lack of expertise, experience and know-how and the need for greater access to markets, contacts and finance.

“These are external and they are common to both men and women entrepreneurs,” she says. “But there are also key factors that are internal and that seem to be a barrier for women in particular – issues around confidence and self-belief and inhibiting ourselves, and we felt this is where we could make a difference and help.”

Tailored for women entrepreneurs

Horan hopes that branding the accelerator as ‘women-only’ will also act as an incentive. And when the academy asked women how they would like to take part, it took the feedback on board.

“In other accelerators we would provide incubation space and there are events to encourage the participants to bond,” says Horan. “But what we were hearing was that the women will naturally network between themselves and that they just wanted to come in, do the work and then get home and get on with business.”

That’s why successful applicants to the Female Propeller programme will attend the Academy at Citywest Business Campus in Dublin for just one day each week over the four months to learn about business-focused skills, as well as taking part in workshops on building confidence, ambition, self-belief, leadership styles, presentation skills and communications.

“During the programme, we will also run a number of networking events to introduce the women to the academy’s wide network of mentors, contacts and supporters,” says Horan, “And the programme will end with a ‘demo day’ in June, when the companies will present to a room full of investors, mentors and corporates.”

Each start-up in Female Propeller will receive a grant of €2,500, one start-up will earn a prize to go to Silicon Valley, and more generally the programme hopes to help create businesses and employment. Horan adds: “Our measures of success will include the number of jobs created and companies receiving follow-on funding, including those applying to Enterprise Ireland for support and funding.”

Future hopes

Female Propeller is not the only women-only business accelerator on the go, and Horan hopes that in general giving women more support to get their businesses off to a good start will ultimately encourage even more female entrepreneurs.

“My real hope is that in three years’ time there will be no need for a female-only programme because men and women will be setting up companies in equal numbers and availing of the supports available, such as accelerator and other programmes run by the academy and others,” she says.

Chocks away

If you are interested in applying for a place on the Female Propeller High Fliers accelerator, you need to start your engine – the closing date for applications is 5pm on Monday, 27 January. For more details, see the DCU Ryan Academy website.

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication