Ben Iverson is Director of International Programs & Enrolment at Augustana University. He is a regular participant at NAFSA, the Forum on Education Abroad, and AIEA. He previously oversaw admissions at University of Minnesota-Morris, and directed university partnerships for ELS Educational Services. Iverson currently serves on the AIFS Board of Academic Advisors and is published in NAFSA’s Guide to International Student Recruitment. Iverson holds a M.A. in international education from the SIT Graduate Institute and a B.A. in Spanish and international studies from Augustana University.
Universities have an important role in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship among women. They help create the environment, infrastructure and talent that allow for the creation of game-changing ideas.
Universities can foster women’s involvement in entrepreneurship
Traditionally, university education trains students for job responsibilities that are determined and facilitated by employers. Universities must also encourage and prepare students, especially women, for occupations that they define themselves — through entrepreneurship.
According to The World Bank, globally, only one in three small, medium and large businesses are owned by women. This rate varies across and within regions, from a low of 18% in South Asia to a high of 50% in Latin America & Caribbean. While the reasoning behind this statistic varies, it is clear that women have not yet achieved equality in the entrepreneurial sector.
Entrepreneurship has evolved from a fringe activity to a critical component of the academic experience. Entry of women into this field can grow with equitable access to opportunities and education.
Special attention is needed for women in entrepreneurship programmes
Many universities offer both classroom and experiential entrepreneurship programmes for undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as extracurricular activities such as entrepreneur organizations, contests and prizes. Courses on entrepreneurial theory, new company creation, venture funding, intellectual property and negotiation skills are all part of the core curriculum for any student wishing to pursue entrepreneurship. However, a programme specifically designed for female entrepreneurs that facilitates funding and gives access to mentoring and exposure to investor networks, could only help these students make their dreams a reality.
Entrepreneurial organizations specifically for women, along with special workshops and conferences that highlight the innovative ideas of women entrepreneurs and facilitate networking platforms with investors, prove to be of immense help.
How a liberal arts education aids entrepreneurship skills
Liberal arts institutions in the United States are a perfect foundation for entrepreneurship. Liberal arts colleges and universities allow students to explore a variety of academic areas and gain new perspectives that allow them to view the world and human experience in a new way. A liberal arts degree also allows students to keep their career options open because of their vast and varied skill set. This is especially helpful for entrepreneurs, as creating a business or leading a top firm will necessitate many different skills, from leadership, analysis, problem solving, communication, risk assessment, networking and interpersonal skills — all of which are learned in a liberal arts environment.
Students who attend liberal arts institutions gain the confidence to pursue an entrepreneurial path because they not only gain a varied skill set, they also develop an interest in fields they might not otherwise have thought to pursue. Because liberal arts institutions require students to take courses that span all disciplines, students may find their newest passion in a field they never thought possible. In turn, these new passions allow them to create and develop new ideas, which are essential to growing and improving societies around the world.
Budding female entrepreneurs
Accelerators, hackerspaces, makerspaces, invention rooms, incubators, wet-labs and digital observatories are among the many facilities and equipment that universities offer to support student entrepreneurs. Students get access to networking and mentoring options in addition to physical infrastructure.
Encouragement of female student entrepreneurs should become part of any university’s fabric. It should be a critical component of their missions of contributing to the prosperity and social progress, especially in the return to a new normal.
Innovation will flourish when equality is achieved and opportunities are equitably shared. The next transformative entrepreneur could emerge from a university, but only when support and equality is provided.