New institute aims to boost number of women entrepreneurs

November 12, 2018

Leaders in DePaul University’s new Women in Entrepreneurship Institute – the only one of its kind nationwide – have created their own successful businesses and now want to help other women leap past their biggest remaining hurdle: access to capital.

The organization cites the lack of representation for women in business as a major hurdle to budding women entrepreneurs, with the male-dominated industry making it harder for them to succeed.

“As a sales leader I find myself working alone with all men,” said Amy Dordek Dolinsky, the co-founder and chief revenue officer of Growthplay. “Unfortunately, there are still major barriers to women. There are very few women CEOs, board members, and very few women in funding.”

Dolinsky and many other women in entrepreneurship who have built successful businesses are looking to support the large amount of Illinois women aspiring to be entrepreneurs.

At Illinois universities, 28 percent of share startups are founded by female students and faculty members, compared to 17 percent nationally, according to the institute’s website.

By becoming a committee board member for the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute, these women have joined a community working to support new entrepreneurs as they face barriers ahead.

The institute is unique because it’s paired with a ‘women in entrepreneurship ‘class that undergraduates or graduate students can take for credit. Students already at DePaul can enroll for the spring class during Winter Quarter. Everyone else should contact undergraduate admissions.

“The purpose of the class is to expose women to a community of entrepreneurs in Chicago and to learn about the challenges they face and how to overcome them,” said DePaul management and entrepreneurship professor Alyssa Westring, who will be teaching the course. “Hopefully they will grow in their confidence and abilities to be entrepreneurs. It’s about an entrepreneur mindset even if they don’t want to start their own business. We want them to be ready for the environment and not accept things how they are.”

The institute will also offer out- of-class support with panels, pitch competitions and incubators, Westring said.

“The Women in Entrepreneurship Institute will connect founders to funding opportunities so that female founders have equal access to opportunity,” said Abigail Ingram, the assistant director of Coleman Entrepreneurship Center. “When investors do invest in women- owned businesses, their returns are higher. While female founders’ startups receive less investment, they generate more revenue.”

Only two percent of venture capital funding is awarded to women-led companies, despite women owning 38 percent of businesses in the country, says the institute’s website.

 

When it comes to the economic clout of women-owned businesses, Illinois is in the lowest 20 percent of U.S. states.

“The way entrepreneurship has emerged over time is that there are assumptions of what an entrepreneur looks like, what they do, and how they act,” Westring said. “But those are generally based around our conceptual vision of a male entrepreneur.”

Westring stated that, without good capital backing, starting a successful business is a challenge.

“It’s hard to start a business without money,” Westring said.

These assumptions of what make a good entrepreneur inhibit women in an investor’s eye.

Dolinsky has worked with various capital partners over time while building her businesses. She says she noticed not one has ever had a woman partner, leader or team member.

Similarly, only 26 percent of small business owners in America are women, according to a statistic from Guidant Financial. This a slight increase from 2017, where only 17 percent of small business owners were women.

Despite the lack of female-run businesses, it is reported that women in business typically have higher levels of education than their male counterparts. In a survey by Guidant Financial, 74 percent of female small-business owners held at least an associates degree, compared to only 64 percent of men.

“There is a singular mindset and perspective happening in these companies,” Dolinsky said. “It puts women startups at a disadvantage. The people who make decisions about capital are mostly men so women don’t get the same attention, funding and support.”

But these women say they aren’t giving up. With experience in the business world, they have advice to offer to future women entrepreneurs.

“It’s important to take risks,” Dolinsky said. “Especially when you are younger, there is no reason not to take risks.”

The institute’s goals are ambitious, hoping to transform the business industry as a whole to be more accessible to women.

“This is not just about telling the students what they should do differently”, Westring said. “It’s not just about changing women entrepreneurs. It’s about changing the system.”

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