Fearlessness, Courage and Capital: What's Needed to Fuel the Next Stage of Growth for Women Entrepreneurs

We asked four business leaders attending the Circle Summit in Houston how they're rewriting the conversation surrounding female founders.

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By Kim Lachance Shandrow

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Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Dell, Elizabeth Gore attends The Fast Company Innovation Festival - Biz Leaders + Politicos Hack The Issues

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Elizabeth Gore says women create businesses twice as fast as men. "Yet their failure rate is disproportionately higher," the Dell entrepreneur in residence tells Entrepreneur at Circular Summit in Houston today.

Despite progress forged in leaps and bounds in recent years, women-owned businesses are still likely to be smaller than those owned by males, and indeed, they are more likely to fail. The main contributing factor remains a widespread lack of access to credit and capital.

With the goal of increasing female-owned business survival rates and further fueling the growth of female entrepreneurship on the whole, hundreds of women such as Gore are gathering at today's inaugural Circle Board summit. United in purpose and passion, their focus is working together to close the gender gap for female founders, smash the glass ceiling and rewrite the conversation surrounding women entrepreneurs for the better -- and once and for all.

Related: 10 Inspirational Quotes From Women Business Leaders

"The statistics are dismal, and we are the people capable of changing them," says summit organizer Carolyn Rodz, founder of Circular Board. She founded the buzzy business accelerator for female founders, "to enlist the right resources, to build partnerships, find the capital, and engage the mentors needed to move your business forward."

Here's a sampling of what the female business leaders at the Circular Summit say needs to happen to fuel the next critical stage of growth for women entrepreneurs:

1. Sara Hirsh Bordo, founder and CEO of Women Rising

"I really want to focus on identifying those who want to be at the table and let's help them get to the table -- the women and mothers and young girls that don't have ambition to get to the table. Let's then champion what they do want to do. What we need is positivity and championing what women truly want.

"It's difficult for women to become what they haven't seen, so we need to shine a light on what's working over and over and over again. Let's prioritize positive storytelling around women and entrepreneurship, making the focus profit, people and purpose."

2. Elizabeth Gore, Dell entrepreneur in residence

"Women entrepreneurs need access to capital, mentorship and access to networks to give them a better shake. We need to create new formulas and new ecosystems that actually are appropriate for how women work, where they work and what their products are.

"The one thing that does not need to change is that women are very purpose driven, so their empathy and their ability to really understand the needs of their communities and families is what makes our businesses unique and ready to scale."

Related: Women Entrepreneurs Underestimate Themselves: What We Can Do About It

3. Carolyn Rodz, CEO and founder of Circular Board

"What we need to build and are building now is an ecosystem that capitalizes on the strength of women entrepreneurs. We're operating in a landscape that has been created by men, dominated by men and we have an opportunity to rewrite the conversation about women entrepreneurs.

"We frame what needs to happen as a circle. It's surrounding women entrepreneurs in a circle of mentorship, sources of capital and the knowledge and media placement to help their businesses thrive, giving them all of the tools to accelerate their growth and take them to the next level.

"Women are incredibly collaborative. When we bring all of these resources together to push each other forward and challenge each other at a very high level there is amazing potential. Women are so special and unique in that we pull together and we do incredible things when we come together."

4. Cindy Whitehead, CEO and founder of The Pink Ceiling, former CEO of Sprout Pharmaceuticals, creator of the "female Viagra"

"As women entrepreneurs, we need to be unapologetically bold, for yourself, for your mission and for your passion. What's needed is courage. More often than not, there are great ideas, but to see those all the way through there has to be a certain fearlessness in asking for investment in evangelizing for your mission, whatever that may be. We need to seize upon that moment that's between great ideas and execution.

"Of course, we need investments in order to see our ideas through and asking for that investment requires a fearlessness and a conviction in what you're trying to do. That's how it will ultimately come to you.

Related: Remembering Forgotten Women of History to Elevate Perceptions of Women Today

"We also have to overcome challenge after challenge. In my experience, I've been a corporate woman who's spent most of her career talking about sex. I've had interesting experiences in terms of reactions to even just being in a room. It would take almost 10 minutes into a presentation I was giving to get through the uncomfortable giggles and the locker room jokes and I think that just fueled my determination to have a very fact-based conversation. I changed my presentations accordingly. I changed my game up. It showed me that women have to change focus quickly to get beyond any of the potential societal bias that makes sense for the cause, the product or whatever women are promoting."

Kim Lachance Shandrow

Former West Coast Editor

Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper, HealthCentral.com, PsychCentral.com and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here

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