Trudi-Haemmerli-Innosuisse

In Switzerland, there are still very few women starting up their own technology companies – in most countries the gender ratio in start-ups is much more balanced. What's preventing women in this country from starting their own companies? Do they get discouraged faster than men? Do they lack suitable role models? These are questions that also concern Innosuisse board member Trudi Hämmerli.  

When it comes to the proportion of women in tech companies, Switzerland is at the bottom of the league by international standards. Whereas there are seven female entrepreneurs for every ten male ones on average, the figure is just five in Switzerland, as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2018/2019 reveals. Analysis of Innosuisse’s start-up coaching shows a similar picture: it found that on average women accounted for 14 per cent of members of the founding teams at the coached start-ups.

A gender difference is to be expected as MINT subjects are still male-dominated. But it does not explain why women lose interest in launching their own company during the start-up process. This is exactly what the impact analysis of Innosuisse’s start-up training reveals. It looked at the distribution of the genders on the training courses in 2016 and 2017 (at that time still under the CTI and called CTI Entrepreneurship). On module 2 for people interested in starting up their own business (“Business Concept”), 30 per cent were women, while on module 3 (“Business Creation”) 25 per cent and on module 4 (“Business Growth”) just 12 per cent were female participants.

“Innosuisse is determined to increase the number of participants. That’s why we must look more closely at why women lose interest between training and launching a start-up,” says Trudi Hämmerli. The Innosuisse Board member is both an entrepreneur and a business angel and understands both sides of the ecosystem. “Women often lack self-belief, whereas men are more confident and immediately seize the opportunity,” adds Hämmerli. “In contrast, women tend to be reluctant until they’re absolutely certain they can do it.” However, this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing in business – on the contrary. “Women often run companies more successfully than men. Particularly because they take more considered risks.”

In the experience of Innosuisse coach Paola Ghillani, new female entrepreneurs often face a tougher time than their male counterparts. “Women launching start-ups sometimes feel they are not being taken seriously. The main reason is that experts and investors tend to be men from older generations, and some – whether consciously or not – work less constructively with women owing to paternalistic attitudes.” In the worst-case scenario, a woman can be demotivated by this in the early stages of setting up a business.

Much has been done to rectify this in recent years though: Trudi Hämmerli believes these differences are already much less evident for younger women. “They have grown up in a more emancipated world and have a new self-image and modern understanding of their roles. They experience these explicit differences between the genders to a much lesser extent.”

Paola Ghillani thinks another reason for the lack of female entrepreneurs is the difficulty in reconciling family life and a career. “Children come along at the very time when you usually have the energy to set something up.”

Both entrepreneurs agree on one point: one of the main reasons why there are so few female entrepreneurs is the lack of female role models, especially in the world of technology. As a result, Innosuisse launched a call for the accreditation of female coaches and seven women in total were accredited in 2019. “We need and indeed have great women who inspire others,” says Dominique Gruhl-Bégin, Head of the Start-ups and Next-Generation Innovators Division at Innosuisse. “We must get women to ask themselves: What’s actually holding me back?”

Female start-up founders fare better when they work with other women. This is illustrated by the example of Ireland: in 2012, out of 100 applicants in total, only seven were female. “The Irish authorities then organised a pitch event exclusively for women,” Trudi Hämmerli recounts. All of a sudden, 50 women came forward with their business ideas. “Among themselves, women seem to have greater self-esteem and courage.”

Another measure is the set-up of networks dedicated to women: in Hämmerli’s view many female entrepreneurs lack the connections needed. “It’s important for women to realise that there are others like them and that they’re not alone.” This is why Innosuisse supported the Female Innovation Forum as a partner in 2019, for example. This event gives female innovators, investors, company founders, networkers and business angels the opportunity to meet and share their knowledge.

Innosuisse plans to extend its support to other target groups in future. For example, middle-aged women. “Many experienced professionals feel the desire to pursue a new path for the remainder of their careers. Not only are they highly motivated to do so, but they also possess a great deal of relevant experience,” according to the multi-year programme 2021–24. Awareness of entrepreneurship should also begin at an earlier stage – at secondary school level. “We are keen to get young women interested in entrepreneurship,” says Dominique Gruhl- Bégin. “I firmly believe that Generation Z and the Millennials, with their self-confidence, can bring about changes in society, the economy and politics.”

Last modification 21.09.2020

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