Women in entrepreneurship are an important segment of economic development and an effective method of achieving a democratic society based on gender equality. Entrepreneurship thus has the power to transform the economy, society and encourages innovation, diversity, and self-empowerment of women.
In addition to reducing women’s unemployment through self-employment, offering opportunities for first-time employment or when they are older, it also strengthens employment in women’s growing entrepreneurial ventures. As of fall 2020, 64 percent of startups in Austria were founded exclusively by men. By contrast, only 9 percent of startups were founded exclusively by women. Although women are the majority in the world’s population, they are still the minority in entrepreneurship, and women with disabilities are particularly affected by unequal opportunities for education and training. Thus, they are doubly discriminated against – on the basis of gender and disability, which makes them one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in today’s society. Every woman, regardless of disability, has the right to full participation in all aspects of life, including inclusive education and employment, as well as access to choices that shape life. This is why Jamba – Career for All launched a digital and accessible FemPreneurship Academy together with partners – Austrian-American Partnership Fund (U.S. Embassy in Austria) and Vienna Business Agency. During the 6 week academy, Jamba provided multidisciplinary knowledge in the field of entrepreneurship and self-employment as well as mentoring support for the development and implementation of a business idea. Therefore, participants, women with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses as well as mothers of children with disabilities through various modules learned about Leadership and Immersion into Entrepreneurship, Startup Ideas and Value Proposition, Business Modeling and Go-To-Marketing Strategy, Marketing and Sales, Finance and Fundraising and no less important – Pitching and Presentation Skills. New skills and knowledge were passed on to participants by other professionals who have experience in entrepreneurship, are owners of social enterprises themselves, or have developed careers in various organizations in leading positions. These professionals, trainers, and speakers were also a diverse group from Austria and the US, including women with disabilities.
“We want participation, visibility and opportunity”
Participants in the academy were of various professional backgrounds, ages, and work experience, with diverse disabilities. Regina wants to establish a social association that will help people with mental health illnesses and those with disabilities living in difficult social circumstances in the field of education, connecting a network of social workers, psychotherapists, and coaching, but also providing free activities and workshops on various topics. Regina is highly educated, whose interests are Tibetan healing yoga, golf, reading, and socializing with friends and family, and she would love to start her own business with a partner who shares her ideas. By participating in this project, she gained insight into all the important features of starting her own business, and she cites the project as inspiring, enriching, and motivating.
Laura, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia this year. Although, as she states, she applied for this program in order to gain new knowledge about starting a business and did not have a specific business idea, she ended the program with two ideas. One is about raising awareness about fibromyalgia through blogs and social networks because she realized that she could not find much information about the disease for younger patients and most of the information is in English and that there are opportunities for networking and sharing experiences. Her other idea would be a small shop of crocheted products, because for her, despite the pain in her hands, crocheting is very meditative and relaxing.
She found the individual modules as well as the guest lectures very exciting because she was able to hear concrete ideas and examples from the local community for the first time. “It was very useful for me to apply the theory in the exercises as well as the interactive design, and the trainers always had a practical approach to the topics which led to new and instructive aspects for me. Also, I didn’t know there were so many funding opportunities in Austria.”
Natalia wants to bring closer the everyday life of the blind and visually impaired through education in schools and companies because, as she states, “it is necessary to remove the fear of the unknown and strengthen the perception of others and themselves.” Zuzana, as the mother of a child with a disability, wants to strengthen the integration of young people with invisible disabilities such as autism through social entrepreneurship. Small safe community, stimulating environment, meaningful time, and socializing for young people with autism and whole families. “I had the opportunity to get to know other women who have a harder time than me and who fit in with them. I can say that for me the program was not only educational but also therapeutic”, says Zuzana. Barbara’s wish is to develop her idea in the field of orthopedic footwear and walking aids. “My mission is to provide women with disabilities with products that they can move around with and feel beautiful about,” she said.
Julia is battling an invisible disability and a chronic illness that changed her life a few years ago. “Chronic fatigue syndrome now dominates my daily life and belongs to me like a small child that I have to take care of all the time,” says Julia, who was led to her business idea by the situation she found herself in. Human resources are also important, she continues, for people to see strengths rather than alleged weaknesses, so she wants to develop an app that will give women with disabilities and chronic diseases greater visibility in the job market. “I originally applied for the academy because it seemed like a great opportunity for further education. After the first module, my idea became clear to me, which had been subconsciously dormant in me for a long time. “
Caring entrepreneurship for the benefit of the community
We, as a society, face many obstacles that make it difficult to solve the problem of empowering women in entrepreneurship, from the traditional view of the role of women in society, the lack of institutional and family support, difficult access to finance and networking, to the lack of mentoring and access to entrepreneurial networks. Nevertheless, the importance of women in entrepreneurship is recognized in many EU strategic documents.
Regardless of whether the participants joined the program with a concrete idea or developed it during the program, all agree that professional advice, knowledge, and experience as well as the opportunity to seek help are extremely important in the self-employment process. All participants emphasized the exceptional importance of networking with other women, with or without disabilities, at all levels, as well as the mutual exchange of information and knowledge and the importance of digital availability of the content offered by the academy. Networking of successful entrepreneurs and start-ups strengthens society, and one day they will be the ones who teach, help, and share the experience of entrepreneurship in their community. It is for this reason that such programs are valuable and necessary, and Jamba plans to continue to organize the academy on an annual basis but also to expand the program and launch it in Bulgaria next year.