If you've been paying attention to the state of women's business, you've heard the oft-mentioned fact from the Center for Women's Business Research: Women-owned businesses are growing at twice the rate of all privately held firms. But we at Entrepreneur wondered: Is that passion for entrepreneurship hitting women at the college level?
The good news is that, yes, entrepreneurial educators are seeing more interest from young aspiring women entrepreneurs than ever before, says Jill Kickul, the Elizabeth J. McCandless Chair in Entrepreneurship at Simmons College in Boston. "The [number] of women who are looking at entrepreneurship as a career option is increasing," she says. However, notes Kickul, young women are not always confident in their business abilities, according to recent research conducted at Simmons in conjunction with the Committee of 200, a national women's business networking and advocacy nonprofit organization. The women who had the most confidence were the ones who had either a strong entrepreneurial role model or some type of entrepreneurship training. Based on that knowledge, Kickul says, Simmons' entrepreneurship training is built around role models--bringing in successful entrepreneurs, having entrepreneurial labs and the like. "One practicum experience involves working throughout a semester with a woman entrepreneur," says Kickul. "Students help [the entrepreneur] do various things--build a business model or strategy, or a growth, financial or marketing plan."
Jaime Mautz, founder of Pacific Ink, an online printer ink retailer in San Diego, certainly felt her confidence rise during her MBA training at San Diego State University. "It got me out into the real world, and I saw what it was like to have a company. Just having the background of all the different classes, all the case studies--you learn from other people's mistakes," she says. Writing her business plan for her thesis project, she launched the company right before graduation in 2000. Today, Pacific Ink's annual revenues are well into the high seven figures. Mautz, 32, now speaks to students at her alma mater about entrepreneurship--and this working mother also tells them how owning her own business is compatible with family life, a question she often receives from female MBA students.
Still, there's a long way to go for women entrepreneurs. Part of the issue is thinking big, says Mary Riebe, director of the Chatham Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham College in Pittsburgh. Women entrepreneurs sometimes underestimate what is possible for them to achieve. For instance, women will often fund their startups with credit cards or go to friends and family--they don't even consider going to a bank. Entrepreneurial education is the key. "As far as entrepreneurship, I've found that if you just give [women] a little motivation, they go 10 miles, so it's really fun to see them take off, expand their horizons and pursue something they might not have thought was available to them," says Riebe. And to aspiring women student entrepreneurs, she adds, "Attack what you fear, think bigger, and find a role model to help you do that."