Q&A: Author Alicia Robb on Women, Entrepreneurship and Goals

Photo courtesy of the Kauffman Foundation

Alicia Robb, with help from co-author Susan Coleman, recently wrote a book entitled A Rising Tide: Financing Strategies For Women-Owned Firms. Robb is a Senior Research Fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a female entrepreneur. Missouri Business Alert talked with Robb about the challenges, characteristics and motivations of female entrepreneurs.

MBA: First off, could you tell me a little about yourself? What made you interested in female entrepreneurs?

Alicia Robb: I got interested in small business finances from an interest in microfinance in Latin America. I was an entrepreneur, starting my venture when I went back to graduate school. It was focused on international development in Latin America, but expanded to East Africa and India as well. I’ve always been interested in women’s empowerment and found a connection between that and entrepreneurship early on.

MBA: Why do you think women gravitate to retail and service industries? Could companies in other industries do more to attract female entrepreneurs?

AR: These industries don’t require a lot of technical expertise or large capital investments, so they have lower barriers to entry. There are women throughout all industry sectors and I think raising the profile of women in these other types of industries could go a long way in attracting more women to those industries.

MBA: In A Rising Tide: Financing Strategies for Women-Owned Firms you mention women have different goals. How are women’s goals different?

AR: Women are more likely to cite work-life balance as a consideration or motivation in starting their firms. They are less likely to cite financial reasons (to make a lot of money). So they often have lower growth expectations for their firms.

MBA: The book also says women might be more risk averse. Do you believe that’s true? If so, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of risk aversion?

AR: I do believe women are more risk averse. I certainly am. I think advantages include being more realistic about trajectories and more careful in hiring, but I see one big disadvantage being that you really need to be a risk taker to become a high-growth venture.  Nothing ventured nothing gained. I think we need to really understand it’s okay to take risks, to fail, to make mistakes…that’s part of the entrepreneurial process!

MBA: What advice do you have for women starting their own business?

AR: There are so many resources out there to support their efforts! Take advantage of them. Astia, Springboard Enterprises, Golden Seeds, Women 2.0, just to name a few. It doesn’t have to be a lonely experience. There are lots of other women out there willing to be mentors, colleagues, funders and sounding boards.

MBA: A Rising Tide says women often have difficulty raising capital compared to men. What can women do to raise more capital? Do you believe certain biases make it difficult for women to raise money?

AR: For one thing, ask. I think women are more afraid to ask than men. I also think for those growth-oriented businesses, women need to aim high and realize all ducks do not have to be in a row to start strategizing about getting to the next level. Another thing: Network…get out there and pitch your idea.

MBA: Should female entrepreneurs seek partnerships?

AR: It can certainly benefit an entrepreneur to bring in others that complement their skill sets. There are, of course, tradeoffs.  Carefully weighing the pros and cons of bringing on a partner or partners should be done before making any additions!

MBA: Given the economy, are we going to see more women start their own business?

AR: Yes. But men [will] too. More people are seeing entrepreneurship as a path for economic advancement and as an alternative to working in a wage or salary position.

MBA: What can women do to break down barriers and join boards? And do you believe biases prevent women from joining boards?

AR: I think starting with nonprofit boards is a great idea. The Diverse Director DataSource is a clearinghouse for potential corporate director candidates where women can register their interest in joining a board of directors. The website also provides links to various academic institutions and companies that offer corporate governance training.

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