Culture, trust and access: the time of women's entrepreneurship

February 14 2017
Executive Education INCAE

Miranda Wang is a nice young woman who at 23 serves as CEO of the company she founded in 2015 with the mission of making used plastic stop being a waste and become a source of value. Graduated in cell and molecular biology, business engineering and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, she naturally assumed the challenge and desire to create her company and when she recounts her life story, she seems to be surprised at how everything began to "conspire" when she I was just a girl in a rural town in China.

He told it in the  III Euro-American Conference of Women Leaders, which INCAE and Voces Vitales organized this February, focused on female entrepreneurship, a pending task for modern societies. Between laughter and memories, Miranda took advantage of the panel of “Women entrepreneurs in STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to tell her experience, with impressive coincidences in front of the life stories of her two fellow panelists, the veteran and renowned Costa Rican NASA scientist Sandra cauffman and the young Tica businesswoman Alicia chong.

Her parents immigrated to Canada when she was six years old and thus began a life of effort and drive without minority considerations. From a young age, she developed a taste for mathematics and negotiations, like the ones she saw her mother practice in the market haggling of her native country. The mixture of cultural environment, family environment and formal education (both basic and specialized) was making her a natural leader eager to open her own path despite the enormous job opportunities that could be opened to her by that same entrepreneurial capacity. 22 years old, in the most competitive companies.

Like Cauffman and Chong, Miranda said that she only wanted to put into practice the tools and resources she obtained from life itself and from parents who, she stressed, never overprotected her. They never stressed that she was disadvantaged by her geographical origin, by her age or, most relevant to this Conference, by her status as a woman. It has never felt like a minority and that is why it is strange every time that a Silicon Valley company claims to be proud of having 30% female staff on its payroll, or 40%, or 50%, it doesn't matter.

Neither Miranda nor Sandra nor Alicia believe in quotas as the main lever of opening for women in the generation of wealth, whether in entrepreneurship or in corporations. Neither did several of those who spoke at the Conference, such as the president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, nor our experts from INCAE Alexandra Kissling, head of the organization. Vital Voices. "It was like a domino effect, that one thing led to another," said the young Canadian while Sandra and Alicia nodded. 

This is a success story, of course. It is a minority story within the unequal world of wealth generation. It is calculated that only 17% of startups are run by women, that in Costa Rica women earn 25% less than men in similar functions and that STEM is strongly dominated by men.

The stories of Miranda, but also of Sandra and Alicia show that exceptional cases of a suitable environment promote self-confidence and the disposition to challenge. “I forgot that I was not a Hispanic woman; I forgot that I spoke with an accent, "said the scientist about her early years in NASA's design department.

“The problem is economic, but it goes further; it is above all cultural ”, said President Solís, who put his finger without hesitation against“ the prevailing typical Latin American machismo ”and the need for affirmative policies, yes, but above all an education that combats the biases of sex in childhood and youth. This is the seed of the possibility of female entrepreneurship, which can be added to quality training, personal conditions, proper accompaniment, a suitable economic environment and one of the most complicated factors that punishes women the most: access to financing.

Then Susan Clancy, Director of Research at the Center for Leadership and Women at INCAE, underlined two other conditions of success for entrepreneurship, without distinguishing between men and women: the necessity of networking (an empathic area for female skills) and the personal propensity to take risks and stumbles along the way.

These factors even play a role in corporate entrepreneurship, as highlighted in the panel led by Ryan Schill, director of INCAE's Latin American Center for Entrepreneurs; with Kissling, Karla Blanco, director of corporate relations for Intel Costa Rica and Javier Vargas, CEO of Cargill for Central America. The course of the conference already guided the conclusions and made it clear that no undertaking occurs without a high dose of daring and self-knowledge. In companies and in the market, gaps do not exist waiting for someone to fill them; the spaces must be created, reclaimed and adjusted from the heritage of each one.


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