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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Three steps university start-up accelerators can take to support more women entrepreneurs


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: March 13th, 2019

In their recent article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Phillip Denny and Rachel Dzombak spell out the ways universities can do more to encourage women-led entrepreneurship.

The authors point to various studies showing that women make up a marginal percentage of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. According to Crunchbase, only 17% of U.S. start-ups had a female founder in 2017, and the Kauffman Foundation found that women are half as likely as men to start a business.

“Accelerators — organizations that encourage, fund, promote and guide startups — have an important role to play in addressing these inequities,” write Denny and Dzombak. “Accelerators within universities — institutes replete with female faculty, researchers, staff and alumna who are often available to help aspiring entrepreneurs — are particularly well suited to the challenge.”

Here are three steps that university accelerators can take to bridge the gender gap, according to Denny and Dzombak:

1. Extensive outreach and mentoring. Accelerators can provide more opportunities for female entrepreneurs to connect with women mentors by extending the runtime of their programs while expanding the number of women mentors.

“We believe this gender parity helps overcome the confidence barrier experienced by some aspiring women entrepreneurs — a barrier documented by decades of research showing men are more likely to be overconfident, and women are more likely to be underconfident in their skills and performance in the workplace,” the authors write.

2. More women judges. Referring to a Harvard Business Review article, Denny and Dzombak say that investors “will generally ask promotion-oriented questions to men and prevention-oriented ones to women, and award nearly seven times more investment to start-ups that fielded promotion-based questions.”

According to the authors, installing female judges and investors at accelerator competitions could help address this disparity, as they are better suited to appreciate the barriers that participating women entrepreneurs face.

3. Bias correction. Studies show that women founders are subject to pushback when making presentations to judges and investors, who may assume that women founders lack technical knowledge. “However,” write the authors, “men are permitted to overpitch or oversell their ideas with best-case scenario projections.” One way to correct this bias would be to have contest entrants place their names and bios — and therefore, genders — at the end of their applications. Competitions could also present multiple ways for participants to present their ideas, including written documents, oral presentations, and videos.

“If more university-based programs follow the steps they’ve taken to support women entrepreneurs,” conclude Denny and Dzombak, “they too can play an important role in addressing the gender disparities so evident in American entrepreneurship.”

Source: SSIR

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