T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net
One of India’s leading biotech companies is headed by a woman, Kiran Majumdar Shaw. But ‘mumpreneurs’ – women setting up business from home to balance family and income generation — are still a small group in all countries.
Gender makes a difference, Paula Fitzsimons, founder and managing director of Fitzsimons Consulting, which specializes in entrepreneurship and growth, told an ESOF session. It makes a difference in the rate at which men and women set up business; in a personal context with women expressing lesser confidence and ambition and greater fear of failure; and in the type of businesses being set up. Women scientists also said they lacked technical skills and training, as well as support from national and local agencies to set up business.
Should women break down barriers, they are branded as ‘dragon ladies’ and ‘uncaring mothers’. Tough either way.
And yet there is reason for hope. We heard the inspiring story of Susanne Rostmark, who started as an environment science researcher in Sweden and set up a company FriGeo in 2003, to commercialise her research findings. “Curiosity moved science into business,” she said.
Her firm specialises in freeze drying technologies to remove water from sediments and sludge, which reduces their volume and makes it easier to transport them. The technology is now evoking interest from the nuclear industry to remove sludge from nuclear power plants.
Rostmark says women entrepreneurs have few role models, peer-group contacts, access to networks, or pre-start-up support.
Fitzsimons has some recommendations to governments to fix that. Promote societal attitudes towards women’s engagement as entrepreneurs, assist women-run business start-ups by making opportunities and resources available; and provide technical assistance and education.
But it is finally up to women, she said. “If your antennae are open as scientists, as women and as people, you will see opportunities.”
This blog post is part of our ESOF 2012 blog which takes place 11-15 July, 2012. To read news and analysis on themes related to the conference please visit our website.