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Massachusetts should have a centralized ‘hub’ to help women entrepreneurs, report says

Deloitte’s research finds support systems are too disparate and need better coordination

Sangeeta Bhatia, pictured in 2013, is a cofounder of the Cambridge biotech Satellite Bio. She is participating in a panel on women entrepreneurship on Monday hosted by Deloitte, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, and the City of Boston.
Sangeeta Bhatia, pictured in 2013, is a cofounder of the Cambridge biotech Satellite Bio. She is participating in a panel on women entrepreneurship on Monday hosted by Deloitte, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, and the City of Boston.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Women who start their own businesses don’t just need financial capital. They also need social capital, and something dubbed “inspiration capital.” To provide that support, Massachusetts should have a statewide organization or initiative that could help bring together women entrepreneurs so they can share tips and success stories.

That’s one of the big conclusions in a report issued Monday by the accounting and consulting giant Deloitte on women and entrepreneurship. The study was commissioned on behalf of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership and the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement in Boston. Deloitte surveyed 102 women entrepreneurs, conducting in-depth interviews with 13 of them.

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The report outlines several challenges in entrepreneurship that women face more frequently than men: a lack of role models, disparities in the availability of financing, and the intrusion of domestic responsibilities.

The study refers to the idea of a “united, hybrid hub” — a physical location for in-person workshops and networking combined with a digital database. Ideally, such a hub would tie together the many disparate entrepreneurship organizations across the state, in part through sharing data and online resources, while also providing particular support for small-business owners far from Boston, where many of these organizations are already based.

It could promote the stories of successful women owners and the trials and tribulations they endured — the so-called inspiration capital.

“There’s a lot out there,” said Kevin McGovern, head of Deloitte’s Boston office. “But it’s not well organized. It can be difficult to find, difficult to navigate. . . . Somebody has got to take a look at what’s available to women, bring it together in a much more cohesive and understandable fashion, and make it more available to people outside of Boston.”

The report is somewhat abstract in this regard and doesn’t define the type of organization that should run such a hub — a for-profit company, a nonprofit, a state agency, or a quasi-public one.

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But respondents to the survey specifically cited the need for accounting and financial guidance. They also described a dearth of financing options, and the challenges of landing equity investments, grants, and loans.

Another frequently mentioned need: more help with child care. The report suggests that universal child care would go a long way toward helping women entrepreneurs.

McGovern recognizes that’s an expensive request, but state officials can take steps to ensure child care is more available and accessible than it is today. McGovern is among a number of business leaders working with a group founded by Eastern Bank’s chief executive, Bob Rivers, to look at ways to improve early education in the state.

Women of color often face additional hurdles that should be addressed, said Alexandra Valdez, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement. “It’s so much harder and tougher on a woman of color who doesn’t know how to navigate the system, or to navigate the language,” said Valdez, a native Spanish speaker who moved to Massachusetts from the Dominican Republic when she was a kid.

The report, in the works for more than a year, will be the focus of a virtual roundtable discussion scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, moderated by Vertex executive chairman Jeff Leiden, who also chairs the Mass. Competitive Partnership. Panelists will include Satellite Bio cofounder Sangeeta Bhatia, Insitro founder Daphne Koller, and Folx Health founder A.G. Breitenstein. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito is also expected to speak.

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“Massachusetts provides entrepreneurs with world-class research and academic institutions, networks of leaders in their fields, and a strong investment community,” Leiden said in a statement. “We are working to ensure that women have equitable access to these abundant resources so our innovation economy can thrive.”

McGovern said he’s hopeful that the next steps toward developing a central hub to support women entrepreneurs, as well as some of the other suggestions outlined in the report, can be developed during Monday’s discussion.

“It’s not just about women,” McGovern said. “It’s about how do we make the Commonwealth a better place for everybody? We really have an opportunity here to make a difference for all of the people in the Commonwealth by helping women entrepreneurs succeed at a faster rate than they are today.”





Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.