© 2019 The Ethnography Atelier

Sarah Kaplan

Director, Institute for Gender and the Economy,
Distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy,
Professor of Strategic Management,

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Acceleration as Mitigation: Whether and when Process Solutions can Address Gender Bias in Entrepreneurship

Abstract

Increasing attention – both in the scholarly literature and in the world of policy makers and practitioners – is being paid to the challenges facing female entrepreneurs. What was once assumed to be a merit-based system for encouraging and rewarding entrepreneurs is now understood to operate in gendered ways that in many cases disadvantage female founders.

These effects occur across the entire pipeline, beginning with the dearth of women seeking to start high growth companies, to the lack of funding opportunities and mentorship. There are substantial differences in the number of startups led by women, their levels of relevant experience and the amount of funding – both debt and equity – they seek and receive. Some have argued that women tend to found lower potential startups. Yet, even controlling for quality, we see many implicit biases in how female founders are treated.

 

One important approach to redressing inequalities might be through the use of accelerators. Entrepreneurship accelerators are proliferating in both developed and developing economies as different cities, regions and sectors seek to increase economic growth and employment. Accelerators are designed to give a boost to startups by providing in a concentrated way the mentorship, networks, training and financing required to be successful. The presence of accelerators could have the potential to solve some of the challenges female entrepreneurs face, however preliminary evidence suggests that they, for the most part, seem to be perpetuating the gendered dynamics that exist in the entrepreneurial system. On the other hand, there is no systematic research on how accelerators do or might address the gendered dynamics of entrepreneurship.

 

Because accelerators are seen as such an important policy tool for increasing entrepreneurial success, it is imperative that we develop and analyze systematic data on accelerators and their effects, particularly on female founders. In this study, we will draw on what is known to date on female entrepreneurs and more broadly on the research on gender in organizations and the economy to understand the dynamics of acceleration in entrepreneurship. Using a longitudinal database of over 3,000 ventures in nearly 50 accelerators, we trace the effects of selection into the accelerator and the acceleration process on outcomes for women-only, women-led, and male-only venture teams. We couple survey data with interviews of accelerators to understand whether and when acceleration can be a tool for mitigating gender bias in female entrepreneurship.