Yes, it’ true. Women have made great strides in business ownership equality but they often face a set of challenges not typically shared by their male counterparts. Entrepreneurship is a herculian task and both men and women seeking to innovate must hurdle a series of challenges. But women entrepreneurs might need to have some extra qualities when defying social expectations, overcoming limited access to funding, building a support network, balancing business and family life and coping with a fear of failure.
Celebrating International Women’s Day, MIT Enterprise Forum Greece is pleased to showcase the thoughts of some of the many dedicated women entrepreneurs who are working towards a more sustainable future. Supporting female founders and empowering women-led or owned initiatives has been an important component of MITEF Greece’s work, and below are some inspiring women entrepreneurs that shed light on some of the challenges they face, discuss the skills needed for a woman in order to get into the business world, and offer their advise to women that have business dreams.
Αnna Chlioura, Co-founder & Marketing manager, Elektronio Handcrafted Vehicles
Female entrepreneurship is full of creativity, lateral thinking, social initiatives and innovative ideas. The main challenge that an aspiring female entrepreneur has to face is the distrust in highly competitive environments where men usually are senior executives, such as in my case, the bicycle industry.
In my opinion, a female start upper or businesswoman should have an academic background relative to her entrepreneurial attempt or position, never stop learning and acquiring new skills, not be afraid of risk, trust her instinct and be confident and precise to her goals.
I would say to all female that want to become entrepreneurs in Greece to follow their dreams, love their job, have passion, patience, persistence and face greek crisis as an entrepreneurial opportunity.
Evi Freri, Co-Founder & CBO, Cyclefi
The entrepreneurial ecosystem is changing day by day and this has also changed a lot the role of women entrepreneurs. The reason is that, even though the fact that enterprises have to face important challenges, women entrepreneurs have showcased how valuable are the merits of integrity, dedication and being strong-minded, that characterize them. These merits have been proved influential in facing challenges, such as the maintenance of her integrity, the continuous verification of capability at decision-making positions, and the high competitive environment.
The most important elements that every woman entrepreneur must have are self-confidence, to believe in herself and her capabilities, staying calm and positive, and always be prepared for unforeseen circumstances.
Challenges must be the incentive for a successful journey to an entrepreneurial world and not an obstacle, especially if you are doing business in Greece nowadays … and women must be the incentive in order to preserve this world successful. So, you have to be always prepared to face upcoming challenges and not to afraid of them, be prepared for your next steps and invest on your personal growth and dreams.
Anastasia Hadjichristofi, Founder & Director at Ecoverified
Most female entrepreneurs have been in the unnerving position where they have walked into a crowded seminar where the women can be counted on one hand. Women might feel that they have to adopt a stereotypically “male” attitude but female CEOs who have succeeded have showed that finding your own voice is the key to defying preconceived expectations. Moreover, work-life balance is a goal regardless of the gender, but mothers who work and especially “mompreneurs” have dual responsibilities to the businesses and to their families, and finding ways to devote time to both is key to truly achieving that elusive work-life balance.
According to a KPMG study, leadership and confidence are vital characteristics which entrepreneurs need to succeed but I would say that these two depend on good communication skills, determination, passion and competitiveness. If the former are combined with a strategic vision and good team spirit then developing a strategy and executing it will be easier and successful.
Anna Kasimati, Managing Director at isMOOD
I think there is no reason to separate the female entrepreneurship of entrepreneurship in total! Personally, I believe that the main problem lies in offered opportunities, and fortunately (or unfortunately) we live in a country full of opportunities! Regarding the challenges, I think that this is common for people who do not settle and search for new opportunities. Passion, perseverance, vision, team and a good networking are the main components of success.
Women need to dare and make their dreams come true. Entrepreneurship is an exciting journey filled with amazing feelings and powerful experiences. You can learn a lot, create wonderful things and develop your professional and personal identiy. Entrepreneurship is an ideal career choice and provides a significant degree of flexibility – something which is very useful in the case of motherhood.
Magy Kontou, Co-founder & Head of Operations at tourismart
In the technology industry, which I’m familiar with – only 26% of computing jobs and just 5% of leadership positions in tech are held by women. The female gender feel insecure to join a male dominated career path or study computer science. Time-management, goal setting, and relevant knowledge, experience or academic background in the sector your business is segmented will make you more confident about how to start a venture from scratch. My advice? Work hard, be realistic and be ethical. Your business idea should get you excited about what excites you every day – is it tech, fashion or something else? Your strengths are so diverse that opportunities are endless.
Aigli Korfiati, Product Development & Support Manager at InSyBio Ltd.
Female entrepreneurship has been increasing lately, but mainly in the retail segment and not in technology companies. Apart from the financial crisis, women are challenged by sexism and a male entrepreneurship world, having to struggle for and prove everything. Lastly, it is challenging to combine building your business and working long hours with forming a family and giving birth given the lack of state care and facilities.
A woman must have will and patience, needs to work hard and gain a deep knowledge of her field.
It is difficult to achieve our dreams separately, so find good partners. This applies to everyone, not only women and not only for entrepreneurial dreams.
Kotsina Katerina, Co-Founder & COO, Learning out of the box P.C.
Today’s female entrepreneurs are still up against a few major obstacles when starting and growing their own business, especially when it comes to receiving angel and venture capital. They struggle to raise capital and they have limited access to funding. Though it might be unintentional, men fund people who look and sound just like them and the consequences are just as harmful as if there was malicious aforethought.
Among the biggest challenges that women entrepreneurs face, are also the limited access to industry, networks and connections, the lack of confidence, the lack of role models and the coping with the fear of failure.
Last, but not least, women have to balance business and family life.
Work-life balance is a goal of many entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, but mothers who start businesses have to run their families and their companies at the same time. “Mompreneurs” have dual responsibilities to their businesses and to their families, and finding ways to devote time to both is the key of achieving work-life balance.
Three things that are important to achieve success in business are: a. Best business attitude: a refusal to quit when things get tough, b. Most valuable skill: Networking. Networking. And… Networking! and c. Strongest personality trait: Having thick skin!
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. (Jim Rohn- entrepreneur).
So, don’t waste your time and… get closer to your dream every moment!
Vasiliki Ntampasi, CEO, Tesibit Inc
The main function of a woman entrepreneur is to make decision. She takes various decisions regarding the activities of her enterprise. She decides about the type of business to be done and the way of doing it. A woman entrepreneur must be clear and creative in decision making process.
Women entrepreneurs often face both overt and subtle gender discrimination — for instance, small-business loans for women-owned businesses dropped 70 percent between 2007 and 2013. Anecdotal evidence shows that women may not be taken seriously by investors and that they may not be seen as hard workers, due to socially reinforced expectations that women are the primary caregivers at home. Furthermore, gender signals may impact entrepreneurial success due to perceptions of “entrepreneurial competence, quality or investment worthiness”.
“Assessment” tests can be boiled down to three very simple things entrepreneurs should have, or be willing to develop, that are meaningful assets for starting and running a business successfully. Notice the key word here is “develop”, not “already have”. The desire, willingness, and ability to learn new skills and habits can contribute to any business women’s success. One of these things is an attitude you can adopt, one is a skill that can be easily learned, and the third is a personality trait few of us come by naturally but with a little practice can be successfully mastered. Three things that are important to achieving success in business are: A refusal to quit when things get tough, good networking and having thick skin (being objective).
Keep focused on what it is you’re trying to do. Your worst enemy is going to be yourself throughout this journey. Be original… Don’t think of yourself as an extension of anything; whether it’s a culture, a place, an environment or industry… Have the guts, have the courage and the belief in what you do. Think bigger, think within a planet where you only exist. That’s where the interesting stuff happens.
Athanasia Panagiotopoulou, Co-Founder & CMO, VesselBot
In my opinion entrepreneurship has no gender, and let’s face it, the word itself is not gender sensitive, instead it defines people, both male and female, who are willing to leave their comfort zone, think out of the box and take risks in order to build successful companies. Yet, statistically, and this is not exclusive to the Greek market, the number of male entrepreneurs is significantly higher than that of women. Speaking for the Greek market I believe this is rooted in the old fashioned Greek culture which dictated that a woman’s job was to look after the home while the man went out to work. Today however women have proven that they are in fact more than capable of successfully playing more than one role. For example, many women today are competent wives, mothers and successful entrepreneurs. To support my opinion, I would like to refer to the results of the Morgan Stanley research “Why it Pays to invest in Gender diversity” (2016), which reported that those enterprises which balanced the allocation of seats on their Board of directors between male and female members increased their profitability, compared to those which followed a strict men-only policy.
In order to succeed in this extremely competitive world I believe that the main characteristics needed, regardless of gender, are persistence, determination, patience, will power, faith and vision. Frankly I believe that these are the key traits that differentiate entrepreneurs from the rest of the work force. It is, therefore, not a matter of gender but a matter of stamina, innovativeness, persona and character.
I would urge them to follow their dreams, exit their comfort zone and persevere. Although entrepreneurship is a journey full of difficult and disappointing moments it is also an exciting one! Through everyday challenges you will further develop your knowledge and skills whilst at the same time strengthening your character. At the end of this journey, irrespective of whether your venture succeeds or not, you will, without doubt, have become a much better professional as well as a better person. However before embarking on this adventure and for its entire duration you will need to have done your homework, to continuously test your assumptions and strategic decisions and always be open to change if and when required. Diligently studying your chosen market is of key importance as this will help you to understand its needs and problems enabling you to develop a product that meets a market need.
Last but not least accept that nobody can succeed alone, which is why a well-chosen team is of great importance as well as a number of strategic alliances.
Katerina Santikou, Managing Director at Workathlon
Women have gone a long way in the past decades in establishing their place in every industry and boardroom. The barrier of male occupied industries is no longer existent and that is a product of decades of work in education, maternity leave programs, and social perceptions. It’s undeniable that issues such as sexism still prevail in many workplaces – you can still hear managers preferring to hire a man over a woman in case the latter has a family. I am not a fan though of claiming differences in male and female work and spending time complaining about it; what each can do is to start positively. Mentor other women entrepreneurs, stand up for inequality in your own company and change the mindset by kicking ass.
Entrepreneurship is by itself challenging, involves hard work and dedication regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. To be successful in any entrepreneurial endeavor you need to be able to think differently, allow unconventional and creative thinking to flow. Female entrepreneurship is no different and in that sense we have an equal footing with male entrepreneurs and the success of each endeavor is hard work, true belief in your work and following your gut.
Successful entrepreneurs are inspired by previous successful entrepreneurs, and if there is one challenge females are facing is not having enough female role models in Greece. The secret sauce to being a female entrepreneur? No other than learn, grow, repeat. There will be challenges all along the way, especially establishing one’s self in male dominated industries that often feel like a gentleman’s club. The tech industry was very much like that, but has changed a lot over the past years, because there were women who focused on their work and thrived, opening doors for all of us. So one thing I have learned the past years is that the answer will always be no if you don’t ask. So ask, aspire, work hard and if you fail try again.
Maria Tsiana, Founder at 3asyR
I believe that women entrepreneurs have high emotional intelligence, a versatile way of thinking and some really innovative ideas. I find women more open-minded when starting new things and should have the inner power to claim their position in the business market. The most demanding skills we need to develop is a strong will to achieve great things and perseverance. So let’s take risks! Let’s get involved with entrepreneurship without the fear of failing.