Promoting women’s entrepreneurship – What did the programme accomplish?
In 2007, the Government commissioned what was then known as Nutek (Swedish Business Development Agency) to promote women’s entrepreneurship. The resulting work went on between 2007 and 2009, with an extension to 2010. In March 2011, the Government issued a decision establishing a new programme to promote women’s entrepreneurship, which was a further development of those measures that had already been implemented.
The commission for the new programmed was then given to the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket), which had, in part, replaced Nutek after its dissolution in 2009. The primary justification given for this programme was based on economic policy:
The under-representation of women amongst Swedish entrepreneurs means lost business opportunities and a limitation of the country’s potential for growth.
(Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation 2011)
The above quotation is taken from the 2011 Government decision that tasked the Agency for Economic and Regional Growth to coordinate and implement a new four-year programme to promote women’s entrepreneurship. The Agency received an annual appropriation of SEK 65 million for the period between 2011 and 2014 to implement this programme. As part of this programme, the Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, in an effort to comply with the Government’s instructions, launched a wide variety of different sub-programmes, the objectives of which ranged from changing norms regarding entrepreneurs in order to influence the way young women viewed entrepreneurship as a carrier choice, to business development and grants to businesses led by women. Together with the 2011 Government decision, the Agency was also tasked with developing a strategy for a system that would promote entrepreneurship on the basis of gender equality. This too, the Agency for Economic and Regional Growth worked with during the programme period, and later launched in the spring of 2015.
In December 2012, the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis (Tillväxtanalys) was tasked with evaluating the effects and results of those components of the Promoting Women’s Entrepreneurship programme that the Agency for Economic and Regional Growth had administered. The Agency for Growth Policy Analysis later started a framework programme based on this task. A framework project involves a multi-facetted analysis of a designated area, which, in this case means an analysis of the various component programmes, approached through the use of various methods and perspectives. The report Promoting women’s entrepreneurship –What did the programme accomplish? describes the collected results of the framework project in its entirety.
Profitability and income in women’s businesses
Business development and innovation measures have generated favourable effects for those businesses that took part in the programme. Two years after their participation in this programme, these businesses had a higher output value, value added and employment than comparable women-led businesses. Four years after participation, the favourable effects on output value and value added remained, whilst the effect on employment did not prove to be permanent. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to study in detail the effects of the various activities within the programme due to certain deficiencies in the description of which components each of the participants took part in. All things considered, the programme has had positive effects and the goal of increasing the growth of these businesses has been achieved.
Probability of women starting businesses
The Agency for Growth Policy Analysis is unable to determine whether the programme has resulted in more women starting businesses. These difficulties are due, in part, to the complexity of the issue, and, in part, to the fact that aggregate level of new businesses tend to change slowly. Affecting deep-seated norms, such as the fact that individuals choose education and employment according to certain patterns, is expected to take a long time. As this framework project is to issue its final report in 2018, only four years have passed since the end of the programme undertaken by the Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, this period can be considered too short in the case of some of the programme’s measures to be able to discern any significant effects.
Methodologically speaking, it is difficult to determine the extent to which the activities and benefits, themselves, influenced women to start businesses. Of the individuals who applied for business development and innovation measures, 27 per cent are business owners of some sort, two years after their participation. We know that these individuals have a genuine interest in entrepreneurship that can be assumed to be stronger than that of women in Sweden, in general. They approached the programme with the intention of starting businesses. It is not certain whether the programme, per se, had an effect on the entrepreneurship of the individual, but this is certainly possible. The earlier evaluation of business development and innovation measures showed that a majority of the participants were satisfied with the tools and knowledge they acquired during the programme (Ramböll 2015).
Based on the sub-studies conducted, the Agency for Growth Policy Analysis has formulated a number of recommendations:
At an early stage, before a programme starts, take steps to facilitate a reliable and cost-effective evaluation. This applies both to the entire programme and to its sub-programmes.¹
Follow-up and re-evaluate the issue of equal treatment
The way an individual is initially treated with regard to the encouragement of entrepreneurship should be re-evaluated after a strategy for encouragement of entrepreneurship on equal terms is deemed to have been implemented. The evaluation by the Agency for Growth Policy Analysis in 2015 should be used as a reference point in measuring any change.
Monitor why women end their entrepreneurship
The Agency for Growth Policy Analysis suggests that an additional indicator regarding termination of businesses and the main factors relating to why individuals choose to end their entrepreneurship, reported by gender, be developed and used in policy formulation and monitoring of industrial policy.
In addition to the above-mentioned recommendations, the Agency for Growth Policy Analysis has identified a number of issues in this area that should be further examined in the future. Examples of these are:
- Why do women end their entrepreneurship to a greater degree than men? Is this due to special conditions in those industries where women are over-represented as business-owners? Do they choose to accept employment, or do they start new businesses, and in that case, and if so, why?
- The issue of how individuals are treated and the business relations among actors in the entrepreneurship-promoting system and business-owners needs additional study in areas such as the system’s contact network, channels of communication, and forms of information dissemination.
Has the knowledge communicated by the national programme been implemented in the regular (regional) system? How and to what extent have those in charge of regional development continued to build upon lessons learned from this entrepreneurship-promoting programme?
¹This is in line with what the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis (Tillväxtanalys) suggests in its memorandum PM 2018:13 “Proposals for improved evaluation of industrial policy efforts”.