For International Women's Day, we sat down with Innosuisse's Division Head of Startups and Next-Generation Innovators, Dominique Gruhl-Bégin, to discuss her take on the state of female entrepreneurship in Switzerland.
In the past years we have seen a more open conversation on inclusivity, including the gender gap, in the startup scene in Switzerland. Do you feel like this ongoing conversation has made a difference for female entrepreneurs? If so, how?
I do believe that every step that is made in this direction contributes to the positive spiral that has been initiated in this area. Women entrepreneurs are increasingly visible and I think that this has an effect on younger women who may now more and more feel that entrepreneurship is also meant for them.
I just had a moving conversation this week with a successful female entrepreneur who, at the time she founded her business, had to choose between having children and running a business as a CEO. She didn’t believe she could have done both at the same time. She mentioned how having a few role models who had been able to manage both may have changed her opinion back then. She added how important it would be for the Swiss entrepreneurial landscape today to have such role models inspire the new generation of female entrepreneurs to undertake both.
In general, I do believe that such discussions on inclusivity and the derived actions from these discussions make a difference. At Innosuisse, we are seeing an increasing amount of women take part in the entrepreneurial training courses, and we even hit a female participation rate of 46% last year. We are not yet at parity, and unfortunately still far from having a gender balance in the founding teams of Swiss start-ups, but there is definitely a movement in the right direction.
What do you think will convince investors to fund female entrepreneurs as often as they do male founders?
Figures and more female investors. There are many studies that show how gender diverse teams lead to more sustainable and profitable businesses in the long term. More and more investors are realizing this and looking for gender-balanced founding teams.
In your opinion, what contributes to the consistently low numbers of female founders?
Apart from the issue mentioned above about some women still feeling they must choose between having children and leading a business, there is also the fact that women tend not to want to engage in an activity if they don't think they can fully commit to it. I don't know if there is less of a appetite for risk, or if women are less confident in their ability to start a business, but the fact is that despite the apparent willingness to engage in entrepreneurial activities, fewer women take the leap of faith. That said, I think that with specific encouragement, this gap could be closed.
Why haven’t we seen a larger influx of foreign investment as a response to the continued no. 1 rankings of Switzerland as the world’s most innovative country?
There is an increasing amount of funding in the Swiss startup landscape, and most of this funding comes from abroad. However, I still often hear that some investors are not keen on investing in Swiss startups because the founders' growth ambition is too low, and they generally prefer remaining “kings of a small nation” rather than “dukes of large empires.” This country is famous for its deep tech firms, which are at the forefront of innovation, but many are targeting niche markets. However, there is also a gradual change in mentality on the growth side. The Swiss startup landscape is still young and progressing; its development is certainly not over yet and an increased growth mindset is part of it.