Europe needs more entrepreneurs, but how can we raise the rate of female entrepreneurship on the continent, which currently stands at less than 30%?

A study released by the International Labour Organization in December examined the impact that developing women entrepreneurs has on the success of start-ups, their survival, business growth and practices.

While the study focused on Asia, Africa and Latin America more than Europe specifically, it draws conclusions that are relevant for the European entrepreneurship scene. Among these conclusions was the finding that while business training and access to finance are helpful, they are ineffective in encouraging business creation on their own. But the study found that a combination of business training followed by individualized mentoring and training in business skills, along with business grants for long-term credit, did encourage women to become entrepreneurs.

Role models and mentors

Studies in India have shown that when women support other women entrepreneurs through learning and mentoring, the results are better than with pure business training programmes. This is an aspect that JA-YE Europe emphasises in its entrepreneurship educational programmes. JA-YE Norway runs the KAN (Women’s Ambitions Network) programme, a three-day event where female business role models are invited to speak to young women students in higher education. The aim of the programme is to build a network for women who want to become leaders or start their own company. This is very important, particularly given that the number of women entrepreneurs in Norway is decreasing. Supported by the Norwegian government’s Innovation Norway Initiative, the programme has been running for eight years. While women might shy away from the risk of starting their own business, there is evidence that they often become the leaders in start-ups.

We see this quite a lot in our entrepreneurship education programmes. In our company programme where students are in mixed teams, the gender balance in a group may determine the core business product or service. But, quite quickly, girls naturally and easily move into leadership positions as the CEO of the student business. We detect that girls need more structure, support and mentoring than boys. Showing girls that there are successful women entrepreneurs can open their eyes to alternative career options, and inspire them to be ambitious. JA-YE Europe is always seeking more women volunteers from the business world to mentor girls and boys in our education programmes.

Where are all the female STEM students?

There is a concern that Europe needs more entrepreneurs in the STEM sector overall. We notice that girls are naturally good at STEM subjects once they get the hang of it. They love biology, chemistry and neuroscience. The Pink Cloud project in Italy, which will present its third edition at the Expo 2015 in Milan, organizes seminars and courses to encourage women between the ages of 17-24 to study STEM subjects, either as their main or complementary subject in further education courses.

Roberta Cocco, Microsoft Italia’s head of corporate social responsibility, and coordinator of the Pink Cloud project, tells them this: “You cannot exclude a component of technology from your studies – either to get a job, or to set up your own company. Companies require more specific training than simply familiarity with social media.” They want technological competences, and right now, there is too big a gap between what companies seek and what school-leavers can provide. The lesson here is that educators need to widen the range and exposure of subjects to girls, including STEM subjects, which girls don’t necessarily gravitate towards.

Finally, a Forum report argues that more women feel confident enough to take the risk of becoming an entrepreneur when they have had the opportunity to acquire certain skills and know-how through “learning by doing” approaches at school and university. Joni Simpson from the ILO has the following recommendation: “We should connect entrepreneurship education training programmes with other entrepreneurship supports (such as business plan contests, mentoring programmes, financial services, networking groups, etc.) in order to unleash the next generation of female entrepreneurs.” We would wholeheartedly agree that it is the right blend of approaches and partnerships that generates real impact.

Author: Caroline Jenner is Chief Executive of JA-YE Europe

Image: A Facebook employee works in the design studio at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith.