Young Women Are Rising to the Top in Entrepreneurial Competitions

A recently released study from local organization Girls With Impact shows females excelling at college-level entrepreneurship competitions — and taking home some serious cash.

The results are in: Young women are ready to lead the next generation of entrepreneurs. This year, nearby organization Girls With Impact (GWI), a Greenwich-based “teen MBA” program for girls, teamed up with the University of Connecticut’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Consortium to study the results of state university entrepreneurship competitions at the undergraduate through PhD level.

The report, released on International Girls Day earlier this month, revealed a startling disconnect: women comprised less than one-fifth of competitors, but well over half of the winners.

In five years’ worth of the university’s venture competitions, only 17.8% of participating students were women. But despite this disproportionately low representation, female competitors consistently rose to the top. More than 50 percent of prize-winning teams — and 60 percent of teams in first place — had women founders. Women-led teams earned an impressive $90,000 (56 percent) of cash prizes awarded to first, second, and third-place winners.

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As the overwhelming success of these female competitors demonstrates, young women have more than enough talent, skill, and initiative to succeed as business leaders. Correcting the massive gender imbalance in entrepreneurship is not a matter of talent, but of resources and opportunity, the study says.

According to the report, women who pursue entrepreneurship are far less likely than men to receive growth investment funding, leading to a long-term disadvantage in generating wealth. At many stages in their academic careers, girls may be discouraged from pursuing lucrative tech fields and leadership positions. But underestimating girls and young women means missing out on what they have to offer.

“It’s a real wake-up call for parents, businesses, and colleges,” says Jennifer Openshaw, GWI’s founder and CEO, of the study results. “Young women are capable of a lot more than we frequently assume.”

Although it can be disheartening to realize the scope of disadvantages that young women face in the workforce, GWI’s study has promising implications for the future of female entrepreneurship — both here in Westchester and across the country. Women’s leadership and ideas were unequivocally an asset in these competitions, and will continue to be an asset wherever these students’ careers take them.

GWI’s mission is to provide the next generation with the education, resources, and ways of thinking that are essential to success in today’s dynamic work environment — starting as early as possible. The organization’s YouTube channel showcases local high school girls’ innovative business plans aimed at improving modern life nationwide. Featured pitches include a menstrual-supply-kit service for homeless women, an online resource platform for children affected by immigration law and deportation, and sonar goggles that speed up the process of rescuing drowning swimmers.

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Organizers at GWI are currently reviewing each participant’s project ideas and putting girls who proposed similar ventures in touch. “It used to be that your network was your school, then your college, then your office,” explains Openshaw. “But the world is global today.” By starting regionally and thinking globally, GWI seeks to build a national network of smart, socially conscious, and confident young women who can work together to claim their place as leaders of the future.

To read the full Entrepreneurship Talent Gap report, click here.

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