Entrepreneurs are a rare breed. Although start-up activity has been on the upswing, just 0.34 of the adults in the U.S. for example (or 340 out of 100,000) started a new business each month in 2009, according to the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. Women entrepreneurs are even more exceptional, accounting for just 29% of all U.S. businesses, as indicated in a recent American Express study.
Small wonder when you delve deeper. Women entrepreneurs receive less than 10% of all equity financing, relying instead on their own funds, friends and family, loans and credit cards to bootstrap their businesses. Yet, according to Moira Forbes, Editor and Chief, ForbesWoman, women-run companies outperformed male run companies by 28%. In fact, a Babson College study calculates that if women entrepreneurs had access to he same capital as men, they could add 6 million jobs to the economy in five years.
At Dell’s second annual Women Entrepreneur Network Global event, held June 5-7 in beautiful Rio de Janeiro (which I was lucky enough to attend and moderate a breakout session at), the spotlight was on inspiring women entrepreneurs from around the world to break through the gender barrier—and in the words of Cindy Gallop, Founder and CEO, IfWeRanTheWorld—change the ratio.
The event brought together a global all-star team of female business leaders who are succeeding at this mission, along with a fresh crop of aspiring women entrepreneurs determined to beat the odds and create successful enterprises. Featured speakers and panelists included women who’ve founded and funded businesses across a diverse range of geographies and industries.
Many pearls of wisdom were imparted in this highly interactive and engaging conference (check out the Twitter hashtag #DWEN, which drove 12 million social media impressions in 3 days, according to @Dell and @Radian6). Here are seven that really made an impression on me and that I wanted to share.
1. Failure is an essential part of success. Women are often more likely than men to take failure personally and give up on an idea or project after rejection. As noted by Arianna Huffington, in her live video presentation: “I love taking about my failures more than my successes….think of failure as stepping stone to success…I was rejected by 35 publishers before getting to yes.” And now look at her as the Huffington Post blasts by the New York Times in unique monthly visits.
2. Take action to make your dreams come true. “When you cease to dream, you cease to live,” is a celebrated quote from Malcolm S. Forbes. Having big dreams is a key ingredient for launching a successful business, and “taking action is what separates entrepreneurs from people with ideas,” as summed up by his great-grand-daughter, Moira Forbes in this video. How true! How many times have you had a great idea and done nothing with it, only to see someone else take that same idea, run with it, and create a fantastic business?
3. Be curious. Curiosity is what makes Michael Dell such a great entrepreneur, according to Dell’s Steve Felice, President, Consumer, Small and Medium Business. In my humble and unscientific opinion, most women tend to be more naturally curious than men. The anecdotal evidence I’m basing this on is that I know a lot more male know-it-alls than female ones. Harness your innate curiosity to explore, examine and unearth what people want and need to zero in on market opportunities and propel your business forward.
4. Pitch your business to its full potential. Lots of great advice on how to do this in the two-part Entrepreneurial Incubator workshops. Springboard Enterprises—which has helped over 400 women-led companies raise more than $5 billion in equity financing since 2000—provided terrific insights and feedback for women seeking equity capital. The top takeaways: don’t second guess yourself, learn to sell, go big or go home. Nail your pitch to convey the passion, power and confidence necessary not only for funding, but to seal the deal in business partnerships, customer sales and media opportunities.
5. Women have to use our talents, not act like men. Women bring a different attitude and approach to businesses. You can be strong, smart and assertive without acting like a man! For instance, trust your gut–if in doubt, don’t!” Certainly great advice whether it’s in your professional or personal life. As Tina Wells, Founder and CEO, Buzz Marketing Group discussed, cultivate authenticity, not “authenticitude.” Being the best of who you really are is a more winning formula than trying to re-make yourself into an image of what you think you should be.
6. Fuel your business with technology. Free and inexpensive online services and social media can kick-start your business. Entrepreneurs can use cloud computing’s “no infrastructure investment required” model to get their businesses off the ground. To gain staying power over time, they also need to fully integrate technology with the business to get streamline processes, gain scalability, and sustain market and competitive advantages.
7. Peer mentorship is as important as getting venture capital. Many of the women discussed how refreshing it was to be at an event where openness, sharing and constructive feedback was the norm at this event. The highly successful entrepreneurs at DWEN are generous in sharing their time and advice with new entrepreneurs, via one-on-one interactions, social media and angel investing. And we can all swap stories, trade notes and learn from each other’s experiences. Cindy Gallop’s movement to encourage women to demand more women speakers, panelists, etc. at ALL events is another way we can foster mentoring–check out #changetheratio on Twitter.
The wisdom, camaraderie and energy at DWEN was truly amazing, as was this group of women, who live and lead with these inspirations everyday—and serve as an inspiration for all of us, men and women–as we pursue our goals.
(Disclosure: Dell is an SMB Group client and covered my travel expenses for the DWEN event)