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A well-attended Impact Day – highlights from the day

Maria
Gustafsson
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Impact Day - en dag fylld av diskussioner om hur vi främjar kvinnors företagande. Foto:
Impact Day at the City Conference in Stockholm, June 3 - a day filled with discussions on how we promote women's entrepreneurship. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

Around 100 researchers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, investors and other practitioners from around the world gathered on June 3 at the Citykonferensen, Stockholm, to talk about how we can advance women’s entrepreneurship. Here are some highlights from the event.

Following the two-day Diana International Research Conference (see note here) focusing on research on women’s entrepreneurship, Esbri and Babson College also organized a more practical day – Impact Day. The aim of the day was to build bridges within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The day included a panel discussion on the opportunities and obstacles that digitalization brings to women’s entrepreneurship, led by moderator Amanda Elam, research fellow at Babson College. Sara Öhrvall, Swedish investor and digitalization expert, talked about how we are entering the second phase of the digital revolution and what is important to consider.

– Companies working on AI development are led by men. We need to ask ourselves how women will be part of it. AI makes it easier to start and run businesses, but we need to make sure it is done in a democratic way, that power is equally distributed, she said.

Panel discussion on digitalization as an enabler of women’s entrepreneurship. Sara Öhrvall, Vera Bersudskaya, Rebecka Berntsson, Amanda Elam. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

Private initiatives to promote women’s entrepreneurship

One of many private initiatives around the world to support women’s entrepreneurship is being undertaken by the digital commerce platform Amazon. Rebecka Berntsson, public policy manager at Amazon Nordics, is leading the company’s efforts to overcome the barriers faced by women entrepreneurs. Recently, they presented a research report, produced by, among others, Professor Malin Malmström, Luleå University of Technology.

Rebecka Berntsson from Amazon talked about how the company is working to get more women to start businesses. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

– 6 out of 10 products sold on Amazon are made by SMEs. So – no small businesses, no Amazon. My job is to listen to what small business owners need in terms of conditions, and what works for small businesses in general works particularly well for women. Only one in four Swedish companies is run by women, so we at Amazon see a great untapped potential that could run businesses, said Rebecka Berntsson.

Vera Bersudskaya, who works with the Cartier Women’s Initiative, sat on the same panel and explained how digitalization is often an engine for social innovation, giving several examples of businesses started by women from different parts of the world.

Women’s access to growth capital

During the panel discussion on women’s access to growth capital, two things in particular stood out. First, several of the panelists talked about the difference between business owners and entrepreneurs. Shori Zand, an entrepreneur and investor, says she invests not only in ideas, but in people.

– I invest in entrepreneurs, not business owners. I am interested in those who have big visions and want to change society for real. If you can’t show that you’re ready to work day and night, I won’t invest in you, she said.

Shori Zand, Gry Agnete Alsos and Selena Rodgers Dickerson discussing how to increase women’s access to growth capital. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

Elisabeth Thand Ringqvist, a Swedish member of parliament (C) and also an investor, was on the same track, and also talked a lot about the importance of women gaining access to, or creating their own, informal networks. That’s where the money is and where business is done.

Elisabeth Thand Ringqvist. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

– In informal networks, there are no rules, and it is difficult for us politicians to do anything about it. It’s a tricky issue, she said.

She also said that as a market liberal, she will not push for 50% of government investment to go to women.

– But we could ensure that every “krona” of government money invested in SMEs has been invested without gender bias, said Elisabeth Thand Ringqvist.

Parental allowance an important building block

The same panel included Norwegian professor Gry Agnete Alsos, Nord University, whose research includes government initiatives to promote women’s entrepreneurship. She believes that governments around the world can do more to create gender-equal entrepreneurship.

– Official capital can force new structures, but there must be a balance between state and private. It is also crucial that self-employed workers have access to parental leave, just like employees. It makes starting a business a little less risky. The problem is that in the Nordic countries it is so safe to be employed, she said.

Presidential advisors shared policy advice

During a segment, we heard from Shakenna Williams Executive Director of the Frank & Eileen Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, Babson College and Selena Rodgers Dickerson, entrepreneur and member of the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). It is an organization that promotes women’s entrepreneurship and advises the President and Congress of the United States. The NWBC divides the policy recommendations into three areas: Inclusive Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, Women in STEM, and Access to Capital and Opportunities. The latter category includes these two recommendations:

  • Create more pathways to capital and increase support for local incubators and accelerators.
  • Protect women entrepreneurs from rogue lenders and raise awareness of unfair financing conditions.

To all recommendations in the organization’s annual report, 2023.

Selena Rodgers Dickerson and Shakenna K. Williams. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

The Swedish government’s investment in women’s entrepreneurship

Magnus Aronsson, Managing Director of Esbri, interviewed Sara Modig, State Secretary at the Ministry of Climate and Enterprise. Asked what the government is doing to promote women’s entrepreneurship in Sweden, she talked about the mission given by the government to the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and added

– The government needs to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses. Women are often perfectionists and afraid of making mistakes. That’s why it’s crucial to make it generally easier to start and run a business, she said.

Magnus Aronsson and Sara Modig. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

The Secretary of State also believes that society needs to broaden the image of who is an entrepreneur.

– Ambassadors are good for that purpose. We also need to stop working in silos on these issues, which is why we are working with the Ministry of Education, among other Ministries. And of course, research is central to our policy decisions, said Sara Modig.

The power of slow growth

Jenny Helldén. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

Jenny Helldén, entrepreneur and member of the 17 network, a network for women entrepreneurs who have founded at least one company with a turnover of at least SEK 50 million per year. She talked about her journey with the company Zilenzo, about howm she, as a pregnant 22-year-old without much capital, set out to start a business with a friend.

– We have been running the company for 20 years and we have grown slowly. We have a sustainable growth plan, a plan on how to increase turnover and how to invest the surplus in the company, she said.

One message she shared was that women need to choose the right partner to succeed in business.

– I have a husband who has taken a lot of responsibility for home and children over the years. He is definitely an important part of the success of Zilenzio, said Jenny Helldén.

Conference participants from across the ecosystem

The Polhem Hall at the City Conference in Stockholm was packed on June 3. Stakeholders from across the entrepreneurial ecosystem attended to listen and to discuss how we can best advance women’s entrepreneurship. The Diana International Research Conference is held every year. In 2025, it will take place in New Zealand, and the following year in South Africa.

Photo: Caisa Rasmussen.

Other stage participants at Impact Day:
Caren Scheepers, Professor at the University of Pretoria (GIBS), South Africa, Christine Woods, Professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, Friederike Welter, Professor at Siegen Universität, Germany, Haya Al-Dajani, Professor at Mohammed Bin Salam College for Business and Entrepreneurship, Saudi Arabia, Maggie O’Carrol, CEO, The Women’s Organization, England, Motshedisi Mathibe, Associate Professor at the University of Pretoria (GIBS), South Africa. Magnus Aronsson, Managing Director of Esbri and Shakenna K. Williams Executive director of the Frank & Eileen Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, Babson College led us through the day.

See the program in full

The day was recorded and will be posted on Esbri Play shortly.

More about Diana International Research Conference
The international research network focusing on women’s entrepreneurship is coordinated by the Diana International Research Institute (DIRI) at Babson College, USA. The network was launched in 2003 by ESBRI and the five leading US professors who founded the Diana project; Candida Brush, Nancy Carter, Elisabeth Gatewood, Patricia Greene and Myra Hart. Since then, the network has evolved and today the annual Diana International Research Conference is recognized as the premier research conference in the world focusing on women’s entrepreneurship. This year’s research conference in Stockholm, 1-2 June, and Impact Day 3 June, was organized by Esbri and Babson College and was the 15th in a row.

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HELLO THERE! Candida Brush – co-founder of the world’s largest research network on women’s entrepreneurship
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INTERVIEW | 5 questions for Ebba Bush on the inequality of entrepreneurship

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