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Women closing the gender gap for entrepreneurship

Woman entrepreneur
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Women around the world have narrowed the gender gap in entrepreneurship by 6 percent from 2012 to 2014 and are finding paths to launching more businesses in industrialized and developing nations, according to a new report.

On average, more women globally are taking advantage of educational gains and perceived economic opportunities to start businesses that can pave the way for financial independence, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2014 Women's Report. The research, conducted by several universities, including Babson College in Massachusetts, was released Wednesday.

In recent years, entrepreneurship increasingly has been recognized as critical to economic development around the world, especially among poorer nations. Female entrepreneurs, in particular, can contribute substantially to economic growth and help reduce poverty, according to widely followed data from the World Economic Forum.

Encompassing 40 percent of the global workforce, women are earning more professional degrees, seizing start-up opportunities and learning networking skills to sustain their small businesses beyond the initial launch phase. Now the expansive report — covering 83 economies — adds to that growing body of research and has found more women starting businesses and triggering community impact through job creation.

"We've seen women starting out cleaning houses in the neighborhood, then eventually expanding to cleaning office buildings, then hiring 100 people," said Donna Kelley, one of the lead authors of the report. The cleaning business, in turn, can trigger the need for accountants and other professionals, widening the impact of that single business in a region. "In places like Africa and emerging economies, there can be huge opportunities," said Kelley, an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College.

Influencing economic development

The report found improvements in female entrepreneurship rates and reduced gender gaps in 61 of the 83 economies studied over two years.

For the 61 economies during the same period, total early-stage entrepreneurship activity rates (ranging from ventures just launched to those operating under three years) rose by 7 percent since 2012.

"Women matter to economic development — they invest in their communities, educate their children, and pay back the benefits they receive by helping others," according to the report.

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Not surprisingly, women entrepreneurs participate heavily in consumer-facing sectors and ventures like cleaning operations or running a local beauty salon or restaurant. But looking ahead, researchers say women entrepreneurs may play a more crucial role in offering local business solutions to global sustainability issues like secure sources of water, food and clothing. "There are huge opportunities in a lot of these countries," Kelley said.

Boosted by education, female entrepreneurs are also achieving higher innovation levels. Women entrepreneurs in nearly half of the economies in the report have equal or higher innovation levels than men entrepreneurs, the researchers said.

As one example, entrepreneur Valerie Grant capitalized on her advanced degrees and experience in geospatial sciences to create GeoTechVision, the only female-owned-and-operated geographic information systems company in the Caribbean region. Her mother was self-employed and her father was a businessman. "I was strongly influenced by my mother when deciding to go the entrepreneurship route," Grant told the researchers.

"I think this report changes the stereotype of who women business owners are and what they do," said co-author Patricia Greene, professor and chair of entrepreneurial studies at Babson. "We have a perception, especially in emerging economies, that these are all subsistence-level businesses. Instead, they are all kinds of businesses started by women, growing in different ways."

Women's Entrepreneurship Day

Conversations about the role and reach of women entrepreneurs globally continues Thursday in New York City.

Business owners and leaders are gathering at the United Nations for the second annual International Women's Entrepreneurship Day. Scheduled speakers include Andrea Jung, former chief executive of Avon, and Leslie Blodgett, former chief executive of cosmetics company Bare Escentuals, which was sold to Shisedo for $1.7 billion. Consumers are encouraged to shop at women-owned businesses on Wednesday Dec. 2, similar to Small Business Saturday.

Entrepreneur Wendy Diamond said the entrepreneurship day was inspired by her trip to Honduras in 2014. There she experienced how small gestures like a micro-loan of some $150 could be life changing for entrepreneurs, their families and communities. "Statistics show that when women are provided with economic opportunity, 90 cents on the dollar goes back to their families," she said.

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