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'It is my passion to contribute to a fairer entrepreneurial climate'

In the Netherlands, not everyone is given the same opportunities and this is no different in entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurs would not be entrepreneurs if they did not focus on possibilities. Caroline Essers, associate professor of Entrepreneurship, researches the obstacles entrepreneurs encounter and the opportunities they create for themselves.

In the Netherlands, not everyone is given the same opportunities and this is no different in entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurs would not be entrepreneurs if they did not focus on possibilities. Caroline Essers, associate professor of Entrepreneurship, researches the obstacles entrepreneurs encounter and the opportunities they create for themselves.  

'For certain groups of entrepreneurs, for example women or people with a migration background, there are fewer opportunities,' Caroline Essers says. Think of difficulties in getting financing, but also of reduced access to networks of knowledge and business partners. 'This has to do with the fact that the ecosystems with its different gendered practices, as well as the discourse regarding a successful entrepreneur, is still too much focused on a middle-aged white male.'

Blind spot

These (unconscious) biases about who can and cannot be an entrepreneur play tricks on certain entrepreneurial groups. People within those groups are not always fully perceived as entrepreneurs because of their gender, nationality, religion or a combination of these kind of factors. This happens, for example, when they want to apply for funding to start or grow a business, Essers mentions. 'For instance, evaluation committees for funding still apply different standards for men than for women. 

A few years ago, an experiment was done in the United States in which men and women whom submitted the exact same plan were being observed, and it was noticed that they were asked completely different questions about it; men more from a growth perspective, women more from a conservative perspective, focusing on potential bankruptcy. Although 38 per cent of Dutch entrepreneurs are women, only 10 per cent of all financial products and only 0.7 per cent of all growth capital goes to women entrepreneurs.'

It is not necessarily ill will among funding committees, sometimes it is rather a blind spot. 'The members in committees still look too much alike (i.e. white men) and they are therefore not always able to recognize and appreciate certain plans,' says Essers. 'A more diverse composition of funding committees is one of the ways to ensure a more inclusive assessment policy.'

Seeing and seizing opportunities

The fact that some entrepreneurs are given less room due to one or more personal characteristics does not mean that they are sitting back. On the contrary: 'It is inherent to entrepreneurs to see and seize opportunities', Essers stresses. 'Because of their position in society or previous negative experiences, they are sometimes actually better able to recognize certain needs in the market and start their business on that basis.'

Essers gives some examples. An agency for labor market integration, a driving school with only female instructors for women only, a beauty salon for Muslim women or a real estate agency focusing primarily on customers with a Turkish or Polish background. 'Certain ideas are sometimes looked at pityingly by more mainstream entrepreneurs, but in practice there is great demand for these kinds of products and services. And this also offers many economic opportunities.'

If it were up to Essers, such initiatives would receive much more room to flourish. Not only as a scientist, but also as a board member of Code-V, an initiative aimed at promoting female entrepreneurship and especially access to finance for entrepreneurs with growth ambitions, she is committed to creating a fair and more inclusive entrepreneurial environment. 'It is not only my job, but also my passion to contribute to ensuring that certain entrepreneurs are more valued and less excluded, and thus help ensure a fairer entrepreneurial climate.'

Photo via Unsplash

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