Georgia’s women need better access to finance

In a business world that is predominantly male, it is crucial for women to build robust networks and communities that provide mutual support and empowerment.

In Georgia, female entrepreneurs have pinpointed two primary challenges – high levels of competition and the difficulty in securing financing or investments – as their most significant hurdles when it comes to starting a (new) business.

Gender discrimination and cultural perceptions were also mentioned as additional obstacles faced by female entrepreneurs in their business endeavours.

To surmount these barriers, Georgian entrepreneurs have utilised various strategies, such as seeking financing through alternative sources and leveraging personal strengths and areas of expertise.

Furthermore, building strong networks and communities of mutual support can prove beneficial for female entrepreneurs in overcoming any future challenges. A supportive network of like-minded individuals can offer emotional support, advice, mentorship, and access to resources and opportunities.

Starting up

In a recent joint survey under She’s Next Empowered by Visa initiative, Emerging Europe asked female entrepreneurs in Georgia about the challenges they face when starting a new business.

The most frequent challenges mentioned were high competition (36 per cent) and obtaining investments/financing (35.5 per cent). Entrepreneurs also struggle with finding workers and building teams (25.5 per cent).

This was also confirmed by a series of in-depth-interviews. One interviewee stated: “There are only banks that provide loans. Female entrepreneurs need more financing.” Another interviewee – a start-up CEO – noted: “Access to finance is where everything starts. It takes so much energy that it is easy just to give up.”

This challenge is deepened by the fact that some industries (such as fintech), are more attractive to investors than others, (such as art tech). Entrepreneurs in less attractive sectors often face an uphill battle in securing financing.

One business owner meanwhile emphasized: “Another challenge is to build (and retain) the team.” This challenge is compounded by the fact that start-ups often operate on a tight budget, which makes it difficult to attract and retain top talent. “Another issue is the brain drain from the country,” said a business owner.

Other notable challenges include unfavourable business conditions (19 per cent), inaccessibility or high cost of business management tools (18 per cent), and access to financial/payment decisions/funds (16 per cent).

According to one business owner, “The issue is the amount of paperwork that should be done while setting up the business.” This can be quite daunting and time-consuming, especially for first-time entrepreneurs who may not have the necessary expertise.

Sometimes it’s challenging to find the experts in the legal or financial fields which include the majority of business paperwork – their services are either too expensive or specialists appear to be novices. Here the benefits of Visa business cards for entrepreneurs can be helpful: check the special offers for Georgian entrepreneurs from DocuSign, Finmap, GEOSILKROAD, and other partners.

Additional challenges mentioned by more than 10 per cent of respondents were finding suppliers of high-quality goods (14.5 per cent), inaccessibility or insufficiency of personal development possibilities (13.5 per cent), and lack of legislation aimed at supporting business (10.5 per cent), expansion of the client base and the search for new markets (10.5 per cent).

A challenging environment

Albeit to a lesser extent, gender discrimination (4.5 per cent), and perception of women entrepreneurs in local culture (three per cent) are also listed as challenges faced by entrepreneurs.

Despite some progress in recent years, there is still a significant pay gap, and many women face discrimination because of their gender or because they have children. As one business owner notes: “50 per cent of women do not work in Georgia.”

In addition, an NGO founder states that there is a belief that women are easier to negotiate with, which may be one reason why they earn less. “In Georgia being a female entrepreneur is a big mental exercise due to the substantial challenges women face, particularly in funding their ventures,” she said.

A start-up CEO pointed out that the cultural environment for female entrepreneurship in Georgia is challenging. They are still operating in a “white man’s world” where decisions are made by men. “Women are often hired for lower positions and rarely reach C-level positions. This reflects the bias against women in leadership positions and highlights the need for more support for female entrepreneurs,” she emphasized.

In the same context, one start-up co-founder noted: “female names (as role models) are harder to come by because gender issues are still sensitive in the country.”

Overcoming the challenges

To overcome barriers and achieve their goals, Georgian entrepreneurs have utilised a range of effective strategies, including seeking out funding and capital through alternative sources and identifying and capitalising on their personal strengths and areas of expertise.

During the in-depth interviews, one business owner stated that her funding journey began with zero investments. However, she was able to secure support from a bank, which was organising a dedicated programme for women at that time. Similarly, an NGO founder mentioned that “my venture was founded on the funds provided by a university.”

An entrepreneur who runs an EdTech start-up emphasized that securing funding for EdTech is quite specific, with very few venture capital funds focused on this industry. And that “my current target are angel investors.”

Identifying and capitalising on personal strengths and expertise has been at the core of success for other entrepreneurs. One strength that can help entrepreneurs succeed is a positive attitude towards challenges. As one business owner said: ” I see problems as challenges. Just a mathematical task.”

Other personal strengths that can lead to success include dedication, enjoyment of work, confidence, and leadership skills. One non-profit founder noted that enjoying what you do is crucial, as it becomes a part of your life.

Another start-up CEO emphasized the importance of continuously thriving for success. “I don’t give up easily, I believe and keep on going,” she said,” I am also confident – I continue and go for something.”

Still, knowledge of one’s area of expertise and the market can be advantageous. A start-up CEO highlighted that: “knowing about my area of expertise (understanding of art) and the market has helped me succeed.”

Looking ahead

In a business world that is predominantly male, it is crucial for women to build robust networks and communities that provide mutual support and empowerment. This view is shared by various female entrepreneurs in Georgia, who have emphasized the significance of networking, exchanging experiences, and empowering other women.

An NGO founder said: “Women should never underestimate the power of networking and the power of communication. Because this is the only chance to survive in this wild venture capital world, which is mostly for men, not only in Georgia but also on the international market. So, believe in yourself, be strong in arguments and be strong in networking and communications.”

Sharing experiences and knowledge is also crucial for female entrepreneurs. A business owner emphasized that it is important to do so, especially in areas where there is a lack of initiatives. “It is also important to inspire other women, especially if they are not yet enough empowered,” she adds.

The importance of empowering other women is highlighted also by a start-up CEO who noted: “I try to promote female artists.”

Creating a community for female entrepreneurs is also essential. A start-up CEO stresses the need for a female entrepreneurs’ community in Georgia. “We need a space to share struggles – emotional connection would be very nice – sharing and caring for each other,” she said.

Providing a platform for female entrepreneurs to share their experiences not only enables them to offer mutual support but also opens opportunities for collaboration. As one entrepreneur puts it, “Firstly, having a shared space, and secondly, having an opportunity to think out of the box.”

Lastly, the international community also may play a crucial role in empowering female entrepreneurs. A start-up CEO noted at the end of her interview, “the importance of the international community in transforming knowledge and understanding trends.”

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