It takes a special type of woman to be an entrepreneur.
I didn’t quite know what to expect when, earlier this year, I met with a group of women entrepreneurs in Karachi who are participating in the World Bank Group’s womenX program. I had read a lot about the low numbers of women running businesses in Pakistan, the challenging environment they operate in, and their many constraints. But I was struck by the positivity and drive of the women I met. They shared with me how they are improving their business and financial practices, building their confidence, and expanding their networks.
Take for instance, Mussarat Ishaq, who runs Al-Karam Packages. Mussarat was a Karachi-based housewife, pregnant with her third child, when her husband divorced her. With no work experience, little education, no money and no plan, she learned the ropes of polythene production and with a business partner, started out small – purchasing the raw material from local markets, using outdated machinery to produce plastic bags, and supplying them to small businesses in their area. Today, they have purchased more sophisticated equipment and they employ 250 employees, working to provide low-cost, high-quality, reusable and environment-friendly packaging materials to Pakistani clients.
Charity Wanjiku pitching for Strauss Energy
What does the journey of an entrepreneur look like? For founders like Mark Zuckerberg, it often begins with a groundbreaking idea, followed by several rounds of fundraising through Ivy League and Silicon Valley networks. But what if you weren’t raised in the United States? And what if your idea is not global in reach — but instead addresses clean technology needs that are unique to your region?
The World Bank Group’s Climate Innovation Centers are one solution to this challenge. The seven centers — in the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, and Vietnam — support more than 270 clean-technology startups with training programs, grants and mentorship. Increasingly, the centers have turned to competitions to help entrepreneurs grow.
Bootcamps and pitching competitions have emerged as promising opportunities for jump-starting an entrepreneur’s journey. Participants train intensively with seasoned entrepreneurs to perfect their pitch. They learn to showcase their business idea and strategy in mere minutes before a panel of judges. Winners bring home significant prizes — and, perhaps more important, connections with potential investors and a greater understanding of the business landscape.
The 1776 Challenge Cup is a pitching competition on a grander scale. The Challenge Cup is a tournament for startups from around the world to share their vision on a global stage and compete for more than $1 million in prizes. 1776, a Washington-based incubator and seed fund, hosted its first annual Challenge Cup in 2014. Past finalists have developed mobile training for Middle Eastern women entering the workforce, have built charging devices for electric vehicles, and have disrupted the value chain in Kenya for perishable goods like bananas.
After managing businesses in television and tourism, Shirley Lindo returned to Jamaica with a desire to create a community-enriching enterprise. As the daughter of a St. Ann farmer, she chose natural products, free of additives, that could be grown on her "Outa Earth" plot in the old Bernard Lodge sugar lands.
Since castor beans grow fairly easily on Jamaica’s plains, she settled on the production of castor oil, a versatile commodity valued as a food additive, manufacturing element, cosmetic ingredient and healing agent. As a testament to the oil’s quality, it has won blue ribbons at the Denbigh Agricultural show, Jamaica’s largest, three years running.
Shirley discovered, after a few years of producing the oil using a laborious traditional process and selling to local and American customers, that her product generated large quantities of waste. Rising everywhere were piles of bean shells and leftover bean pulp, plus the leftover trash from another crop, the moringa seeds that were becoming a popular health food on the island.
After doing some research on uses for these agricultural byproducts, Shirley applied for a grant to use them to develop a sustainable soil conditioner and low-smoke briquettes.
From 300 entrants, Shirley was one of 11 winners selected from across the CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market) region, and one of four women in that group. Her initial progress was slow, as she grappled with the cost of scaling up castor oil production in order to create the critical mass required for producing the newer products more efficiently.
Heading back from a recent mission to Ghana, I felt really proud of what we have accomplished: training 20 of the most promising local clean-tech entrepreneurs through the Green Innovators Bootcamp. The words used to inaugurate the event are still in my head: “This bootcamp is not an end in itself. It’s the beginning of your journey as entrepreneurs.”
Indeed, bootcamps for startups and SMEs – as well as close cousins like Hackathons, Start-up Weekends, and Business Plan Competitions – are an increasingly popular activity used to catalyze innovative ideas and provide entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to launch their ventures.
In Ghana for example, infoDev -- a global innovation and entrepreneurship program in the World Bank Group -- organized a two-day training event to help a group of 20 early-stage entrepreneurs assess the feasibility of their business concept, identify their customer base, and refine their business model.
Organizing a bootcamp can be very challenging and time-consuming, but, when done properly – read “7 things you need to do to prepare for the perfect bootcamp” – the payoff is big. "Bootcampers" find these initiatives very useful to identify new solutions to the challenges they face to launch their businesses -- mostly access to finance, product development, and marketing. Furthermore, "pitching competitions" and "business contests" offer new entrepreneurs an excellent and safe stage to refine their business pitch -- a key tool of every successful entrepreneur.
One of the goals of bootcamps and pitching competitions is to bring together different stakeholders – from entrepreneurs to investors and policymakers – to facilitate the creation of ecosystems in which entrepreneurs can grow and thrive. But is it realistic to expect that bootcamps and similar training initiatives are enough to enable promising entrepreneurs to reach their full potential? The answer is simply: No. Make no mistake: Bootcamps are an exciting tool to create buzz and interest in countries that have little entrepreneurial history and culture. In most contexts, however, there is no follow-through with effective action plans that can keep the momentum going. This not only limits the value of these initiatives, but can also cause harm to a nascent ecosystem.
Try to search for stories that feature the growing pains and gains of growth-oriented technology startups – content that is not only entertaining, but of high quality and most important, educating. It is a surprisingly hard task in today's economy, where entrepreneurship is booming again.
- Ignore gender differences
- Create curriculum around PowerPoint (Stand and deliver)
- Emphasis on existing idea or opportunity
- Use of big business examples
- Use of industry standards
- Reliance on banks as start-up funds
- Primarily including male instructors and speakers
- Assumptions about firm size
- Assumptions about linearity of growth
This is a list of what NOT to do when designing and implementing successful support programs for women entrepreneurs, as suggested by Prof. Patricia Greene of Babson College at a recent presentation at the World Bank Group. Her seminar was the first in a series on "Women Entrepreneurs: A New Approach to Growth and Shared Prosperity."
Pick any country in the developing world.
Where are the women entrepreneurs in Pakistan?
They start and manage digital-content creation firms serving international clients. They are sole proprietors of construction businesses bidding for government projects. They supervise tailors and embroiderers in windowless storage rooms that double as stitching units. They export high-end gems and jewelry around the world.
Women entrepreneurs in Pakistan lead cutting-edge, innovative businesses – but there are far too few of them. The recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report finds that only 1 percent of Pakistani women are engaged in entrepreneurship – the lowest proportion in the world.
Pakistan is not alone in its dismal ratio of growth-oriented (or indeed any kind of) women entrepreneurs. Even in the developed Asian economies of Korea and Japan, only about 2 percent of women are entrepreneurs. Sub-Saharan Africa does much better in this regard, with 27 percent of women, on average, engaged in entrepreneurship -- but they are mostly involved in low-productivity sectors of the economy.
Women entrepreneurs, in Pakistan and globally, have narrow networks of friends and family who provide them with some initial capital to start their small businesses, with little expectation of further financial support. Their export customers are located wherever they have extended family. And they rarely feature in local chambers of commerce activities.
Banks are often reluctant to extend lines of credit to, provide working capital to or lend to women-led enterprises. This makes it difficult for these enterprises to pursue growth. Perhaps this is why the average growth projections for women-led enterprises are seven to nine percentage points below those for their male counterparts.
When it comes to financing for entrepreneurs, this week marked a major event in the financial industry of the United States with immense potential ramifications for the developing world. This week, the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s unanimously approved rules for equity crowdfunding.
For context, equity crowdfunding allows entrepreneurs to sell equity shares of their company to a group of investors through an internet platform, and is a distinct category of crowdfunding apart from micro-finance (Kiva), perks-based (Indiegogo), and debt (Lending Club). The most notable crowdfunding website is Kickstarter which since 2009 has raised more than $840 million, from more than 5 million people, funding 50,000 creative projects. This platform operates on a pre-sale, perks or donation model where funders contribute funds for a future product, reward, or in-kind. Shares or equity were, until the SEC ruling, not part of the deal.
If we hold true that this SEC measure represents a seismic shift in the way entrepreneurs can raise funds in the United States, the question remains, can emerging markets leap frog the developed world to democratize access to finance for entrepreneurs in their countries?
The answer, we believe, is yes.
Brace yourself for some dramatic new evidence about innovation and entrepreneurship – and and circle the dates October 16 and 17 on your calendar.
Propelling leading-edge ideas about competitiveness, Professor Mariana Mazzucato will be among the luminaries at a major conference at the World Bank in mid-October, organized by the Bank's global practice on Competitive Industries. An all-star array of policymakers, academics, business leaders and development practitioners will focus on today's top global economic-policy challenge: spurring growth and job creation.
Exploring “Making Growth Happen: Implementing Policies for Competitive Industries,” the conference in the Bank's Preston Auditorium will include Mazzucato among
some of the world’s foremost analysts of competitiveness. A professor at the University of Sussex in the U.K., Mazzucato’s iconoclastic new book – “The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths” – is now rocking the economics world. Mazzucato's insights are forcing a rethinking about the essential role of the public sector in driving the investments that are shaping the modern economy.
Public sector? Shaping the economy? Yes, you read that right: Mazzucato amasses persuasive evidence that the government-funded development and deployment of advanced technologies has been pivotal in changing the economic landscape.
Government’s role as a growth catalyst has been just as creative as the role of the private sector – and perhaps even more venturesome. Despite their buccaneering bravado, for-profit firms have lately shied away from high-stakes, high-risk investments in unproven technologies. Mazzucato refutes the defeatist dogma that claims, falsely, that public-sector investment can never do anything right.