Ireland is not maximising the value of its female entrepreneurs and too few are seeking the State supports available, said Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon at the Female Founders Forum in Dublin yesterday.
“This is a subject close to my heart, not because I’m a female CEO with any bias towards female founders, but it is close to my heart because I don’t believe Ireland is maximising the value of its female entrepreneurs.”
Sinnamon said there is a clear Government policy mandate to drive more jobs through entrepreneurship.
“We can’t do it without an increase in female and male entrepreneurs.”
She said that while the World Bank estimates that 37pc of new job creation comes from businesses led by female entrepreneurs, in Ireland too few female founders are seeking supports that are available in the form of competitive start funds (CSFs) and high-potential start-up (HPSU) programmes.
“We support 100 HPSUs a year and typically each company would have three founding members. Across those 100 projects that involves 250 promoters. In 2012, only seven female entrepreneurs were counted among those 250 promoters.”
Each HPSU that Enterprise Ireland supports has the capacity to create 10 jobs and achieve a turnover of €1m within three years.
Sinnamon said the competitive start programme, which provides up to €50,000 towards the founding of a business, is also seeing disappointingly low involvement among female founders. Earlier this year, Enterprise Ireland launched a €600,000 Competitive Start Fund for Female Entrepreneurs to support at least 12 businesses.
In 2012, between CSFs and HPSUs, 15 female founders received support out of a total of 180 projects overall, she added.
A time to change
Sinnamon warned there is a serious shortfall in the number of female founder role models and this needs to change.
“The more there are, the more there will be. It is absolutely true. All of the evidence and research suggests that female founders are more impacted by role models than males. There would be an exponential effect overall if we increase the number of role models.”
Sinnamon said female founders do not and will not receive special treatment just to boost numbers. “The situation won’t get any better by making the wrong decisions – every proposal has to stand up to commercial scrutiny.”
She acknowledged that men who come from senior and middle management in existing companies dominate the population of applicants for CSF and HPSU funding.
“Anybody looking at the numbers of females in senior and middle management in existing companies knows this is also lower, so it is not to be unexpected that this process will take time.”
However, Sinnamon said she has reason to feel optimistic that things are slowly but surely changing.
“When the spotlight was put on the 2013 figures, the total number of female founders across our CSF and HPSU programmes went from 15 to 21. The number of seven female entrepreneurs in HPSU programmes went to 16.
“They were judged by our private-sector panel using the same criteria.
“Also, Enterprise Ireland is working harder than ever to reach out and encourage and challenge more female founders to come forward.”
A time to be more ambitious
Sinnamon said levels of ambition are a problem. “In the first year when we launched our CSF feasibility fund, not one female entrepreneur sought the total amount of money on offer. In all my time sitting on these panels, I never saw one man who didn’t.”
She said an aspect of interest is whether women deal with failure as well as men.
“Ambition levels were the biggest constraint when we started the Leadership for Growth programme for the software sector a few years ago. Over time, the ambition levels increased and the growth accelerated. Personal ambition levels are definitely linked with confidence.”
Simply put, not enough women are coming in the door seeking support from Enterprise Ireland.
Sinnamon urged female entrepreneurs: “Don’t just do it for yourselves – the impact on Ireland going forward in terms of setting out role models is important. You’re not just doing it for yourselves, you are doing it for future generations.”
She said now that the number of female CSF and HPSU candidates are increasing, the pressure needs to be kept up.
“Ireland punches above its weight in entrepreneurship. One of the big challenges is scaling projects and this is as true for female, as well as male, founders.
“We need to scale projects in order to maximise potential. From an Enterprise Ireland perspective, this is a high priority because we need more jobs and two-thirds of new jobs are created by companies in their first five years.
“Ireland is an entrepreneurial people – I think we can do a lot more. It is early days but we can do a lot better,” Sinnamon said.
Watch highlights of Julie Sinnamon’s talk here:
Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.