Business & Tech

Babson-led study finds women starting businesses more in developing world

A Babson College-led study released Thursday found that women in regions including sub-Saharan Africa are becoming entrepreneurs at a higher rate than in North America.

Sunday Alamba/Associated Press

A Babson College-led study released Thursday found that women in regions including sub-Saharan Africa are becoming entrepreneurs at a higher rate than in North America.

When it comes to encouraging women to start their own businesses, the United States might have something to learn from the developing world.

A Babson College-led study released Thursday found that women in regions including sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean are becoming entrepreneurs at a higher rate than in North America.

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The finding — from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2016/2017 Report on Women’s Entrepreneurship — comes with a big caveat: Starting a business is very different in economies where there are fewer competitors and barriers to entry, and where women have fewer job opportunities to begin with.

But Donna J. Kelley, a Babson entrepreneurship professor and lead author of the study, said the findings suggest that women are more likely to start businesses in places where they see their peers and role models doing the same thing.

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“A lot of the developing economies have worked on more peer mentoring so that women have more contact with women entrepreneurs,” Kelley said in an interview.

That factor could resonate in the United States — and especially in the technology industry, which has struggled for years to put women founders on equal footing with men.

In one effort toward parity, Babson announced in conjunction with the study’s release that it had assembled the latest class of its WIN Lab , which provides women-led businesses with mentors.

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The cohort of 24 businesses includes firms working in fitness, cosmetics, educational technology, and medical software, and participants will have access to mentors such as Lizanne Kindler, chief executive of Talbots. 

The report issued Thursday cited the WIN Lab project and others like it as proof “that role models, milestone planning and focused programming develop confidence and grow businesses of women entrepreneurs.”

Overall, the report found positive signs for women entrepreneurship worldwide. Since the last report in 2015, female entrepreneurship increased by 10 percent, narrowing the gender gap with men starting businesses.

Kelley said the report should challenge policy makers to think broadly about what it means to have women starting businesses. The report covers activities as small as one-person operations selling food at a roadside stand to complex endeavors such as starting a biotechnology company.

“There’s a lot of different ways that entrepreneurs contribute to society, and they really are all around us,” she said. “Something is being done right, women are being inspired, and we’re seeing the gender gap closing in these economies.”

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.
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