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Money Talks

Cash pool for female startup founders needed to 'end discrimination against women'

An Oireachtas committee wants a €25 million fund set aside for female entrepreneurs.

Updated 16.53

MORE MONEY SHOULD be ring-fenced for female-led startups and better maternity benefits made available for entrepreneurs to end the “discrimination against women that still exists in the workplace”.

An Oireachtas jobs committee has called for a €25 million investment fund to be set up exclusively for female entrepreneurs as part of a string of measures to make the most of their “untapped potential”.

A 2012 analysis of businesses in Enterprise Ireland’s high-potential startup (HPSU) systems over the past 10 years showed only 5% were led by women. Since then the proportion has steadily increased to more than 18% so far this year.

The committee’s chair, Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy, said the gender imbalance remained a “significant issue” both for female entrepreneurs and women in the tech industry more broadly.

90388231 Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy TD and Fianna Fáil senator Mary White Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

Among the report’s recommendations was the “positive discrimination measure” of an Enterprise Ireland-initiated €25 million seed capital fund.

The money would be managed predominantly by women and used to back about 50 new female-led companies over five years.

“Access to finance remains a difficult and daunting prospect for women entrepreneurs,” the report said.

Part of it derives from the traditional stereotyping of women in careers other than leaders of enterprise; part of it is that women are more comfortable in such situations in dealing with other women.”

90318036 Businesswoman and Dragon's Den star Ramona Nicholas at the 2013 National Women's Enterprise Day Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Sasko Lazarov / Photocall / Photocall

Investment by women, for women

Enterprise Ireland already runs a Competitive Start Fund for Female Entrepreneurs, a €500,000 pool open to startups run by women.

But the committee said the funding should be doubled for the next three years with a second annual call for applicants each time around.

The report said the response to recent initiatives, like the competitive start fund, showed women “respond strongly to financial incentives and programmes specifically organised for, and directed to them”.

It also recommended introducing a two-year childcare incentive as part of Enterprise Ireland’s HPSU programme.

Capture Enterprise Ireland Enterprise Ireland

These were among the other moves suggested to boost the number of female entrepreneurs:

  • “More imaginative” promotion of female leaders already coming through Enterprise Ireland and Local Enterprise Offices as role models 
  • Giving female entrepreneurs the same maternity-benefit rights as female employees
  • A number of “female business angel networks” be actively promoted in the regions
  • A government-led “powerful, sustained and clear campaign” to inform parents, teachers and girls about the benefits of studying STEM subjects

‘Ending discrimination’

Fine Fáil senator Mary White, one of the co-authors of the committee’s report, said it was time for a “concerted effort” to remove barriers for female entrepreneurs.

“This is about ending the discrimination against women that still exists in the workplace,” she said.

Our research shows that women, and young women in particular, are far more reluctant than men to take the risks involved in starting a business. Much of this is down to the barriers associated with balancing career and motherhood.”

First published 11.00am

READ: Why Richard Branson isn’t a good role model for would-be startup founders >

READ: The payments startup founded by two Irish brothers now worth a staggering $5 billion >

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