June 21, 2012
I've been bombared lately with a blizzard of tweets and articles about an explosion of women entrepreneurs. Like this one by Natalie MacNeil on Forbes and this earlier one by Meghan Casserly about Gen Y women's leap into entrepreneurship. Then there's Kathy Caprino's piece about the new film She Means Business. I know Kathy from Twitter, have interviewed her for a past story, and I've backed the She Means Business Kickstarter campaign - can't wait to see the film. I am also spending a lot of time at the moment attending networking events with female entrepreneurs, and my hat is off to them (and me!) They're motivated, hardworking, enthusiastic and smart.
But here's what gets me about the hoopla: last year I started reporting a story about female entrepreneurs for Marketplace, which aired in January. My story was spurred by another blast of tweets in the fall of 2011, and these were about the very opposite of what I'm hearing now: why there was a dearth of female entrepreneurs. The fall frenzy was kicked off by this Fast Company blog post. All the data I have seen points to this: that there are still fewer women-owned than men-owned businesses and that women-owned businesses are far less likely to make a lot of money, particuarly to exceed the much-vaunted million dollar revenue mark. You can read more in this Kauffman Foundation report on why more women-owned businesses would mean a healthier economy and this AMEX Open report on the state of female entrepreneurship. So what's going on now? Why can't I go for more than a few minutes on Twitter without seeing a 'you go girl!' tweet with a link to one of these articles? (And some of them came out before She Means Business was announced.)
That's what the next episode of The Broad Experience will be about - the extent to which female entrepreneurship really is changing the world. Or not. I am thrilled that women are getting up the courage to quit unrewarding jobs and form their own businesses. I even count as a female entrepreneur myself now. But I don't quite trust what reads to me as hype over women going it alone. Several of the excited articles state that women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. Yet I could find no data to that effect and when I checked with a source who's spent her life in this sphere, she said it was untrue - that it's old information that continues to be recycled.
I'm hoping to interview the women behind the film She Means Business as well as Nell Merlino of Make Mine a Million, the nonprofit that helps women business owners break the million dollar mark. And I'll be very happy to have my cynicism knocked out of me.