Jennifer Melia at Enterprise Ireland aims to help women to set up their own firms, writes
Tne stark fact showing the under-representation of women in the business world is that companies with female founders secured only €4.5m of the €24m invested by Enterprise Ireland in start-ups last year.
Only 19 out of 91 companies that received investments under the Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start-up (HPSU) programme — that helps companies expand overseas — had female founders.
The percentage of companies with female founders who received early-stage Competitive Start funding of €50,000 is at a more elevated level.
But HPSU manager Jennifer Melia points out that there are fewer applications from females and that women who do apply tend to seek less funding than their male counterparts.
HPSU is aiming to boost the number of female participants, however.
“There are three times more men than women starting and growing businesses in Ireland,” said Ms Melia.
“Lack of previous strategic management experience, domain knowledge, and lack of a professional-strategic network is likely to impact a decision to start an enterprise and, in turn, this can impact access to finance,” she said.
Ms Melia notes that having too few women in business is an international issue and that Ireland has more potentially high-growth start-ups founded by women than many European countries.
She adds that since Enterprise Ireland introduced additional support for female founders in 2012 there has been a big increase in the number of female-led companies receiving HPSU funding.
She believes that one reason to explain the under-representation of women is that family commitments get in the way.
The fact that women are strong strategic thinkers who want clarity about the future tends to make them more risk-averse, said Ms Melia.
“Typically some of our female founders are more risk-averse in terms of the amount of funding they look for. Male founders are not as risk-averse, and are more confident going in, looking for higher levels of funding — even when their idea might be at an earlier stage,” she says.
By way of example, between 2012 and 2016 the average Enterprise Ireland HPSU investment for a male-led company was €250,000, while the amount for female-led companies was much less.
As part of its initiative to encourage more women to set up their own businesses, Enterprise Ireland has, for the last eight years, offered a dedicated Competitive Start Funding round for female entrepreneurs.
“We find female founders are more comfortable applying for a female-only call,” says Ms Melia, adding that to encourage more women to become entrepreneurs, Enterprise Ireland also offers a range of supports including mentoring and an accelerator programme.
Ms Melia says that to encourage more female entrepreneurs, there needs to be more females appointed to senior management in companies, because managers tend to go on to set up a high number of start-ups.
Enterprise Ireland plans to provide a grant of up to 50% of a manager’s salary for part-time management posts. Ms Melia says this could allow senior female professionals the option to work on a part-time basis and bring people with valuable skills back to the workplace.
She says there will also be an increased emphasis on providing female mentors for start-up companies, taking full advantage of the number of successful female-led companies that have been supported by Enterprise Ireland.
Ms Melia notes there is a range of female-led companies across a range of areas, including financial technology, ICT, and life sciences which can provide mentoring to early-stage companies.
“Another of our objectives is to increase the number of female investors, and we also plan to encourage female researchers in colleges to work with us on research projects so they can spin-out companies,” she says.
“Females with business ideas are out there — we just need to make it easier for them to come and talk to us and to develop them,” says Ms Melia.