European opportunities for women entrepreneurs

In a context of strong gender inequality, the European Union has launched several initiatives dedicated to women entrepreneurship. Gender equality is also one of the priorities of the European Commission, which has set specific targets to tackle this challenge.

Women and entrepreneurship in Europe

The latest European Commission report published in 2014 on women entrepreneurship in Europe showed that just over 30% of entrepreneurs in the EU were women in 2012. Between 2003 and 2012 – the study period on which the report is based – the share of women who started their own business only increased by 2%.

Although the situation has improved since 2012, women are still under-represented in entrepreneurship. However, a study published in 2019 by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation proves that women aged 25 to 34 had more higher education degrees than men in the European Union (44% compared to 34%). So what are the obstacles to female entrepreneurship?

There are many factors of inequality for a woman who wants to start her own business. In addition to societal factors, financial risk and the difficulty to access funding are often obstacles to female entrepreneurship. A study by the venture capital fund Atomico shows that in 2020, only 1.7% of investments in tech start-ups would go to companies run solely by women in Europe.

What instruments are available for women entrepreneurs in Europe?

However, there are several financial and support instruments in Europe for women entrepreneurs. Many incubators and networks which aim at supporting women entrepreneurs have developed across Europe, such as Positive Lab in Germany and the Club Génération #Startuppeuse in France. They assist women with entrepreneurship aspiration with support and contacts to enhance their project.

Across the European Union, several joint initiatives have also been launched in recent years, for example:

Since 2020, the European Institutes of Innovation and Technology (EIT), part of Horizon Europe, have been supporting start-ups and innovative projects. They have indeed put in place a gender mainstreaming policy in their programmes. Thus, the various EIT communities promote female entrepreneurship through actions and the establishment of an alumni network for women. Since 2018, the EIT has also introduced the Women Entrepreneurs category to its EIT Awards for the outstanding achievements of women entrepreneurs and leaders in innovation communities.

Also under Horizon Europe, the European Innovation Council’s EU Prize for Women Innovators awards a €100,000 prize to three women who have developed the most outstanding start-up projects across Europe. The 2021 edition of the competition is currently open until 30 June.

Women and the European Innovation Council

The European Innovation Council (EIC) also promotes women in entrepreneurship through other initiatives. First of all, the EIC has planned to launch a programme to support female entrepreneurship in the field of deep tech, the Women Leadership Programme. The beneficiaries of this programme will be women researchers and entrepreneurs supported by the EIC, as well as beneficiaries of the Women TechEU. This call, to be published in June, will select around 50 deep tech start-ups led by women.

The EIC Accelerator, the flagship programme for SMEs and start-ups, also wants more women to participate in the calls for projects published each year. The European Commission’s target is to have 35% female CEOs among the winning projects. These various measures in favour of female entrepreneurship were reiterated in a statement by the members of the EIC Advisory Board.

Interested in the opportunities offered by the EIC Accelerator? Euronovia founder Virginie Robin will host a master class organised by the RolemodelRebels platform on 22 June. To register, click here.