As an undergraduate math major, one of my favorite areas of study was chaos theory. That is, the notion that a small, seemingly inconsequential action in one location can have a major effect in another, very distant location. This concept is often illustrated through what is known as “the butterfly effect,” whereby the beating of a butterfly’s wings is the catalyst for a major hurricane on another part of the planet weeks later. Recently, I was reminded of this notion in the context of entrepreneurship and, in particular, women in entrepreneurship.
The 2011 American Express OPEN report, “State of Women-Owned Businesses,” indicates that the number of women-owned firms is growing steadily. In fact, between 1997 and 2011, when the total number of businesses in the United States increased by 34 percent, the number of women-owned firms increased by 50 percent, a rate 1½ times the national average. While that fact is encouraging, and while sales, too, are increasing for these same women-owned firms, sales growth of women-owned firms at 53 percent lags behind that of the national average at 71 percent. It seems a reasonable goal to help grow women-owned firms, which currently account for 29 percent of all enterprises according to the American Express OPEN report, in an effort to increase their contribution to the workforce and the economy.1
Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (“WEAmericas”), an initiative that leverages public-private partnerships to increase women’s economic participation and address key barriers women confront when starting and growing small and medium enterprises (e.g., access to training/networks, access to markets, and access to finance), is working to bring these concepts to bear. In addition to the U.S. government, WEAmericas founding partners include Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, ExxonMobil Foundation, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, Inter-American Development Bank, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Vital Voices, Walmart Foundation, WEConnect International and, proudly, my own organization, Kauffman FastTrac.
In the spirit of strengthening economic partnerships and exchanging ideas among countries in the Americas, next month, during a Walmart Foundation and U.S. Department of State sponsored visit to the United States, approximately 40 female entrepreneurs from several Latin American countries will spend a day with Kauffman FastTrac in Kansas City, Missouri. The experience will be designed to engage the visitors in learning, exploration, and dialogue related to entrepreneurship, with a focus on business growth. The attendees will participate in Kauffman FastTrac’s Listening to Your Business three-year visioning workshop. In particular, the women will examine their businesses today, including strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities; visualize their businesses three years from now; formulate internal planning processes to establish interim goals and strategies; identify resources to assist in reaching business goals; and examine and respond to challenges and transitions.
The hoped-for output of these and other efforts: Economic recovery and growth. As noted by the Kauffman Foundation, it is essential to view women’s entrepreneurship as an economic issue – not as a gender-equity issue. Thus, as chaos theory suggests, small investments in women – to help advance their entrepreneurial aspirations – can result in significant positive global economic implications. Just like the butterfly effect, from chaos will come order, and as women bring their ideas to market, global returns will increase and everyone will benefit.
1 The report bases its analysis on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners (1997, 2002, and 2007) with extrapolations into 2011 based on Gross Domestic Product.