Published 29 November 2016

Promote Women’s Entrepreneurship

– Evaluation of entrepreneurship promotion activities in higher education

Women are well established in the Swedish labor market. However, women are still significantly under represented in entrepreneurship and business ownership in Sweden, even compared to other industrialized countries. The program Promoting Women’s Entrepreneurship aimed to encourage women to start and grow their own firms.

This report evaluates a sub-program, Entrepreneurship at universities and colleges, which aimed to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career option to women students, in particular those training for jobs in female-dominated sectors. The goal was to increase the likelihood of participants starting their own firms.

This report investigates the likelihood of beginning self-employment as a primary occupation among program participants relative to a matched control group of otherwise comparable individuals, based on register data from Statistics Sweden. Several sets of statistical analyses suggest that overall, participating individuals were no more likely to select self-employment than comparable individuals, suggesting that the program did not have the intended effects. While individuals who took part of the program’s limited interventions are more likely to become self-employed after participation, the results also indicate that participants in the program’s ECTS-courses are less likely to become self-employed after participation.

An important caveat to the results is that only two years have passed since the initiative ended. Since most participants are still in their late 20s or early 30s, entrepreneurship may still materialize. In the short term, university courses may only affect participants’ entrepreneurial intentions or their self-efficacy (a belief in their own ability to accomplish a given task) and not entrepreneurial behavior. A complementary survey measuring attitudes towards entrepreneurship from a large random sample of the participants and the control groups suggests that students participating in entrepreneurship courses exhibit a somewhat higher degree of entrepreneurial self-efficacy than the control group of similar non-participants. However, the difference in entrepreneurial self-efficacy between participants and non-participants does not seem to translate into greater entrepreneurial intentions among the participants in any of the initiatives for entrepreneurship at universities and colleges.

The report draws several conclusions. One is the need to consider evaluation possibilities when designing publicly funded programs and initiatives. In the larger umbrella program Promoting Women’s Entrepreneurship, several different initiatives were launched simultaneously and organized by disparate groups of companies, universities, and organizations. Furthermore, poor documentation about activities conducted, costs, individuals participating, and program outcomes makes rigorous evaluations difficult. For the initiative Entrepreneurship at universities and colleges, we know that over 15,000 individuals (men and women) participated, but data are only available for approximately 2,000. Furthermore, there was no consideration of evaluation design during the planning of the initiatives (e.g. control group considerations, data on participants collected before participation, etc.). Hence, our report comes with significant limitations in terms of internal validity. If taxpayers’ money is spent on expensive educational initiatives, program design and evaluation considerations are crucial for ensuring efficient use of scarce public funds. Despite the study’s limitations, this report relied on state-of-the-art evaluation designs (matched participant and control groups) and collected both primary data related to entrepreneurial skills and intentions and secondary data on entrepreneurial behavior after program participation for both program participants and the control group. Our statistical analyses show no indication that the initiatives have enhanced entrepreneurial intentions or increased entrepreneurial behavior among participants. Since most initiatives were only recently completed, and entrepreneurship in the form of becoming self-employed on a full-time basis may take time to materialize, follow-up studies up to a decade after completion of the initiatives is warranted.