What drives female entrepreneurs? 

Motivation and initiative are the strengths female entrepreneurs value the most. And although it’s not only about the money, in the end, it very much is. 

There are several reasons that can lead someone to become an entrepreneur. It is certainly not easy and demands effort and passion along the way. Often, entrepreneurs transform something they love into work and only then into a business. 

Motivation in entrepreneurship  

Entrepreneurship can be motivated by different factors, including the willingness to take challenges, to stop taking orders from somebody else, a desire for financial gain, or simply to create something new or innovative. 

To become an entrepreneur, it is essential to assume taking risks, dealing with challenges, and overcoming obstacles. It is impossible to be one hundred per cent safe when starting a business; it is possible to manage exposure to risk, but it is impossible to be totally sure about how things will go as they often depend on the economic context. As one start-up founder said: “Entrepreneurs are people who love risk, they have a passion for ideas”. 

Another factor is the possibility to be one’s own boss, setting up teams, schedules, goals, or clients and partners according to preference. Entrepreneurship can provide a sense of autonomy and independence, allowing individuals to make their own decisions. 

Many entrepreneurs are motivated by the potential for financial gain, such as the opportunity to earn more money than they would as an employee, the potential for high growth and large returns on investment, or the potential to create a legacy of wealth for future generations.  

Moreover, some entrepreneurs are motivated by the desire to create something new or innovative, such as a new product or service, a new business model, or a new way of solving a problem. 

Owning a business is anything but monotonous. Entrepreneurs are often faced with problems but have the mindset to identify opportunities in the market to find solutions to these problems. This drive can keep them going through the challenges of starting and growing a business. 

Of course, there is not a single entrepreneurial profile. Entrepreneurship depends on personal subjectivities, changes across time, countries, and field of activity, and is driven by market opportunities. 

Motivation of female entrepreneurs 

This general introduction does not ignore that gender also can play a role in entrepreneurship. The world is asymmetric and, in most societies, norms and cultural dynamics tend to privilege male perspectives over female, legitimising patriarchal social systems.  

It is therefore natural to address key entrepreneurship skills from a gender perspective, identifying the strategic needs of women entrepreneurs, or possibilities that can contribute to strengthening their small businesses and individual management skills. It often involves obtaining support through groups, networks and institutions related to business development. 

Sometimes it is about economic empowerment as in low-income households there might be few opportunities to access education and training. Other times, it relates to social empowerment because of status and cultural norms.  

Research has suggested that there may be some differences in the motivations of men and women entrepreneurs. For example, some studies have found that women entrepreneurs may be more motivated by factors such as the desire to create something innovative, to have a positive impact, or to find a better work-life balance. In contrast, men may be more motivated by money and independence. Again, these differences are not universal, hence they have a multi-layered nature and cross genders.  

Additionally, some studies suggest that women entrepreneurs may face more barriers to entry, such as lack of access to capital and networks, discrimination, and gender stereotypes, which may lead them to be more motivated by the desire to overcome these barriers. 

She’s Next: On motivations 

Based on research for the She’s Next Empowered by Visa project, which followed a mixed method approach, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, some insight from start-up founders and SME owners can be shared. 

When people taking part in our research were asked about the main reason for setting up a business, three key reasons emerged, namely: earning more (50 per cent), wanting to work for myself, not for someone else (31 per cent), achieving a dream (21 per cent). There is no doubt that achieving more financial security is the key driver of female entrepreneurship, according to the respondents. 

In the in-depth interviews, financial success was not mentioned as often as would be expected according to the survey results. Nevertheless, this is not surprising as research has shown disclosing personal or business finances are challenging topics to discuss with others, the survey being a more comfortable and less personalised way to provide insights into this issue. 

Interviewees mentioned elements more connected to achieving a personal dream or wanting to have better control over work-life balance. An SME owner said: “When I had my second child, I felt the need to make a change in my life. I was working in marketing, and it is not a nine-to-five job. It takes a lot more time and is hard to maintain a balanced work-life.” 

Ranked fourth and fifth were factors such as contributing to benefit others (12 per cent), personal achievement (10 per cent), and building a career (10 per cent). Below 10 per cent are other factors ranked in the following order: a solution to unemployment, helping others, or wanting to be a leader and inspiring others. 

Although not so representative in the survey, during the in-depth interviews more experienced female entrepreneurs especially often mentioned the importance of leading by example and contributing to the community. It was the case of a CEO who said: “It is a great opportunity to lead by example, which I believe in. Of course, this opportunity comes with responsibility.” 

Strengths to achieve success 

Women entrepreneurs were also asked about their greatest strengths. Respondents believed the most important strength of an entrepreneur is motivation and initiative (31 per cent), followed by hard work (26 per cent), self-discipline (25 per cent), and persistence (24 per cent). Creative thinking closes the top five (23 per cent). 

The willingness to take risks is mentioned by 17 per cent and then factors such as confidence, the desire for training, multitasking, flexibility, innovation, determination, empathy, or strong working ethics. In the in-depth interviews, an idea of personal responsibility is also mentioned, as stated by a start-up founder: “When something goes wrong, I ask myself what could I make better? Obviously, I should not take full responsibility for others’ mistakes, but still… I always share this responsibility and think about what can be made better.” 

Lastly, as explained by another start-up founder, it is important to embrace risk and find the confidence and motivation to overcome potential challenges. “One of my key strengths is that I am an achiever. I love to work. I am a proud workaholic. So, in my perspective, I think those characteristics help me to be where I am now,” she said. 

If the reason to start the business was passion, there will always be a solution to any problem. As a start-up founder said: “Unless you are in prison or dead, you can solve anything”.   

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