Digital entrepreneurship tools and support for women entrepreneurs

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Digital entrepreneurship tools and support for women entrepreneurs | Tools für digitales Unternehmertum und Unterstützung für Unternehmerinnen | Инструменти за цифрово предприемачество и подкрепа за жени предприемачи | Alati za digitalno poduzetništvo i podrška poduzetnicama | Ψηφιακά εργαλεία επιχειρηματικότητας και υποστήριξη για γυναίκες επιχειρηματίες | Strumenti di imprenditorialitŕ digitale e sostegno alle donne imprenditrici | Digitālās uzņēmējdarbības rīki un atbalsts sievietēm uzņēmējām | Інструменти цифрового підприємництва та підтримка жінок-підприємців

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National Entrepreneurship Ecosystem and Women Entrepreneurs

Impact Measurement – Results of the online survey with digitalization experts

Conclusions from the Local Roundtables with Stakeholders


National Entrepreneurship Ecosystem and Women Entrepreneurs

Women entrepreneurship ecosystem[1] in Croatia

Women entrepreneurship in Croatia can be monitored statistically through the activities of trading companies and crafts in which one or more women hold at least 51% share of ownership. According to Financial Agency – FINA, the share of trading companies that are owned by female owners ranged from 18% in 2011 to 22% in 2020. Observed by activity, companies with majority female ownership in Croatia are prevalent in the area of activity – other service activities. Next, women entrepreneurs are most represented in the area of education, the area of professional, scientific and technical activities, and the area of administrative and support service activities.

Although the share of women entrepreneurs in Croatia recorded a slight increase in the last few years, the existent gap in activity of women and men in starting entrepreneurial ventures indicates the consistency of obstacles and insufficient efficiency of programs and measures for the development and strengthening women entrepreneurship in Croatia, and the need for a wider range of policy instruments and programs that will enable the development of woman entrepreneurship.

Structural, economic and the so-called “soft” obstacles[2] have been identified as the key problems of development of female entrepreneurship in Croatia. The major structural obstacles are stereotypes about women in science and technology, traditional views on the role of women in society, and the lack of support for women with two jobs (family and profession). The economic obstacles are related to difficult access to finance and a low level of networking of women, while the major “soft” obstacles include lack of advice, mentorship, access to networks of female/male entrepreneurs, training, education and qualification programs for technologically intensive ventures, and lack of self-confidence to take risks.

At the national level, strategically relevant document is the national Strategy of Women Entrepreneurship Development in the Republic of Croatia 2014–2020, which was adopted in 2014 by the Government of the Republic of Croatia. The Strategy was based on the EU Strategic Framework, Small Business Act, Women’s Charter and the Europe 2020 Strategy, whose aims were achieving smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth, implying wide and efficient acceleration of women’s economic potential. The Strategy addressed the following four strategic objectives: improving alignment and networking of public policies, improving systematic support to women in entrepreneurship, introducing women entrepreneurship to the overall institutional infrastructure, and promoting female entrepreneurship. The expected result of the application of this strategic document was to increase the number of women starting a business venture and the number of women who are owners of growing business ventures. Unfortunately, publicly available reports on implementation results do not exist, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the effects of the strategy.

In recent years, Croatia implemented a number of programs and projects aimed at encouraging the development of women entrepreneurship. In 2019, the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development (HBOR) started the implementation of a credit program Youth, female and start-up entrepreneurship. This program aims to encourage the establishment and development of business entities majority owned by women. Since 2011, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has been implementing Croatia Women in Business Program, aimed at women-led small and medium sized enterprises. The program provides financing through partner banks and several nonfinancial instruments aimed at strengthening women in entrepreneurship like business consulting, education, workshops, and mentoring.

In July 2021, the Government adopted the National Recovery and Resilience Plan 2021-2026. Within the reform measure Increasing the structural sustainability of the economy and encouraging green transition, the plan provides more favorable lending to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that usually have difficulty in accessing banks funding. Thus, direct loans from Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the amount of over EUR 100,000 envisage financing projects launched by women entrepreneurs.

In addition to the specific measures, programs and funding instruments mentioned above, there are also entrepreneurship support institutions at the national and the local level, which encourage women entrepreneurs to accomplish their entrepreneurial projects. Some cities contribute to the development of entrepreneurship by establishing entrepreneurial centers, incubators, and development agencies. Furthermore, associations play an important role in promoting women’s entrepreneurship and serve as inspiration for all women who want to become entrepreneurs.

The Center for Education, Counselling and Research—CESI is a non-profit association committed to promoting women’s social status and achieving gender equality. In 2021, CESI launched project Radnica.org which was created within the CESI program "Social Justice and Equal Opportunities" with the aim of combating discrimination in the world of work. The purpose of the Radnica.org portal is to promote gender equality in the world of work through the provision of legal aid and protection in the field of labor and social rights, as well as to inform society about gender discrimination in the world of work and employment.

The network of business women “Women in Adria” operates through a web portal, social networks, and organization of networking events with the aim of networking and exchanging experiences of women entrepreneurs and businesswomen. Since 2012, a series of networking events has been organized with the purpose of exchanging ideas and experiences, as well as award ceremonies for best women entrepreneurs. Similar activities are undertaken by the Virtual Women’s Entrepreneurial Center and Aurora, both of which are digital platforms. The main goals of these centers are the promotion of successful entrepreneurial stories among women, the exchange of experiences and the creation of business contacts. The Croatian Association of Business Women – KRUG aims to promote and foster active cooperation and joint efforts to improve the position of women in business and family life. KRUG implements different activities related to achieving better recognition and opportunities for capable businesswomen. The DKolektiv - an organization for social development has implemented the project "Empower, motivate, activate", from March 2019 to September 2021, with the aim of providing support to unemployed women for active engagement in the labor market and greater employability.

Finally, it can be concluded that Croatia recognized women entrepreneurship as a vital part of the Croatian Economy and various programs implemented in Croatia have allowed for a positive change for women entrepreneurship. However, there continues to be room for improvement and advancement in the field, especially in the better adjustment of the support instruments that should presumably meet the real needs of all women entrepreneurs.

 
[1]This analysis is based on the following sources:

Mikić, M. & Has, M. (2020). Women’s Entrepreneurship in Croatia. In Women's Entrepreneurship in Former Yugoslavia - Historical Framework, Ecosystem, and Future Perspectives for the Region (pp. 37-59), Springer, Cham;

CEPOR (2022). Small and Medium Enterprises Report −Croatia 2021 including the results of GEM – Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research for Croatia for 2020. CEPOR, Zagreb.

 

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Impact Measurement – Results of the online survey with digitalization experts

No.

Name

Position

Email

1.

Boris Peterka

Entrepreneur, digitalization expert

boris@studioat.hr

2.

Tomislav Trgovac

Entrepreneur, digitalization expert

Trgovac.marketing@gmail.com

3.

Blaženka Urbanke

Company co-owner, digitalization expert

Blazenka.urbanke@hsm.hr

4.

 Edita Tomašić

Company co-owner, digitalization expert

edita@inspiric.hr

5.

Ivan Kelić

Digital marketing specialist, researcher and teacher

Ivan.kelic@efos.hr

 

In your opinion, would the implementation of such a training of a digital expert, based on the Curriculum Prototype that has been developed, be effective for women in developing of new digitalization skills and up scaling their businesses?

How important is, according to your opinion, such training on digitalization designed specifically for women entrepreneurs?

The experts believe that the implementation of the training program based on developed Curriculum Prototype would be useful for any kind of micro and small business, not necessary those that are led by women. The topics that are planned as obligatory courses in Curriculum Prototype …

- Digitalization as a tool for increasing competitiveness;
- The most commonly used digital tools in the practice of SMEs;
- Business Model Canvas;
- SMEs marketing and management

… are important for all micro and small business owners and digitalization experts need to have those kind of information integrated in their products and services in order to be able to deliver quality support for their clients.

The only specific topics in the Curriculum Prototype that are adjusted exclusively to women entrepreneurs are those related to pedagogical approach in working with women entrepreneurs as clients. Experienced digitalization experts that work with small business clients for a long time and have experience also with women entrepreneurs believe that a topic about specific pedagogy in training and working with women entrepreneurs could be presented in no more than 45 minutes. All other topics, according to them, are equally important for both women and male entrepreneurs.

Digitalization experts claim women entrepreneurs are not inferior in technical knowledge comparing to male entrepreneurs. They say that digitalization as a topic is new to everyone outside their field and they require equal time and effort to explain some technical topics in a simplified way to both women and men who don’t have technical background.

Furthermore, digitalization experts claim that women entrepreneurs they’ve worked with invest more time, effort and passion in the projects related into introducing digital tools in their business. Women have more ideas, they are more creative and dedicated to the project and this results in majority of the cases with better final outcome. Women are more advanced in their thinking and more open to innovative approach.

One digitalization expert compared the situation when he works with women entrepreneur in Croatia as a client with the situation when he works with some Western European company. In his words, women entrepreneurs are very professional, demanding, but knowing  (better than men) what they want. They want to be involved in all aspects of their business, while men want to outsource digital aspects of their business (if that is not their core business) and “forget about it”. They just want to pay for it and have it done.

Furthermore, experienced digitalization experts with more than 10 years of experience of working with micro companies, run by both women and men, find women entrepreneurs more stubborn as clients, even if they are wrong. They already have an idea when they ask for a service, and it is often very difficult to make them change their mind.

Interviewed digitalization experts don’t think it is important to adjust the training on digitalization to women entrepreneurs even when we think of special physical location of the training of timing. They claim women entrepreneurs do contact them during 7 days a week, whole day long, but they do not explain what is the reason behind their flexibility in working hours. At the same time, male entrepreneurs also contact them outside regular working hours. They didn’t ever think that women might have more challenges in combining private and professional life, but one digitalization expert believes that might be the reason why women entrepreneurs often send e-mails late at night.

Have you participated, as a trainee, in such training focused on how to support specifically women-led businesses?

Have you offered, as a trainer/digital expert, training on digitalization specifically designed for female entrepreneurs?

Interviewed experts have never participated in such training as a trainee or trainer.

Based on your previous experience, in terms of reduction in time related to certain business tasks, at what rate do you believe that the introduction of digital technology and the adoption of digital tools will benefit women's businesses, on an annual basis?

Reduction in time depends on the industry, company and level of digitalization. All experts had an issue with responding to these questions related to the forecasted impact.

They said that reduction in time comes as a result of reduction of working hours needed and other resources. Small businesses usually rely a lot on digital tools and digital technology while it saves time, space and money and they are forced to use resources carefully.

Another important factor that influences the level of introducing of digital technology and tools in business are age of the company’s owner and his / her level of education.

Reduction in time due to introducing of digital technology and tools could range from 25 – 50%.

Based on your previous experience, in terms of cost reduction, at what rate do you believe that the introduction of digital technology and the adoption of digital tools will benefit women's businesses, on an annual basis?

Reduction of costs could be huge, from 25-75%, depending of the level of introducing of digital technology and tools, and it also depends on the industry.

Based on your previous experience, in terms of increasing revenues, at what rate do you believe that the introduction of digital technology and the adoption of digital tools will benefit women's businesses, on an annual basis?

Increasing of the revenues could be huge due to increased penetration to the market if digital tools were newly introduced as a marketing and distribution channel: from 25 – 100%.

To what extent, based on your experience, the investment that women will need to make to participate in such a training and to purchase the digitizing equipment and tools they will need for their business is profitable in terms of the benefit they will gain both in time and money through the digitalization of business tasks?

The profitability of the business could be significantly increased, from 25 – 50%.

 

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Conclusions from the Local Roundtables with Stakeholders

The roundtable with key stakeholders of women entrepreneurship in Croatia was organized on 14th February 2022. The participants at the roundtable were: women entrepreneurs and representatives of business associations: Croatian Employers’ Association, Women in Adria (association of business women and women entrepreneurs), Croatian Chamber of Crafts, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, CEPOR, Faculty of Economics in Osijek – J.J. Strossmayer University in Osijek (researcher), VERN – University of Applied Sciences (trainer and researcher on women entrepreneurship). In total, there were 13 participants at the roundtable, and it lasted for 90 minutes.

The main conclusions of the roundtable are described below.

Who could be leading the initiative to implement a training based on the Curriculum Prototype? Where could someone find the sources to finance such a training program? Resources that need to be prioritized to guarantee the sustainability of the program.

Training based on the Curriculum Prototype could be implemented by various actors: informal training institutions and private companies, employers’ associations, women business associations, chambers of commerce or crafts, etc.

Key question in implementation of the program are sources of its financing. It should be almost completely subsidized, while 1) digitalization experts have a wide range of opportunities and they should be stimulated to invest in additional training on women entrepreneurship; 2) women entrepreneurs who are final beneficiary of the training program implemented based on the developed Curriculum Prototype are those who are facing difficulties in achieving sustainability of their business and struggle with finding the financial resources for investment in themselves and in their businesses.

The sources of subsidies could come from the EU funds, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development whose office in Zagreb iz running Women in Business program for years, national funds, funds coming from regional / local government, or corporate sponsors like banks.

Financial resources for subsidizing the implementation of the program (for fees for trainers, premises and catering costs for the part of the program that is implemented physically) are the key resources needed for implementation of the program.

Who could help in the promotion of such training? How can we reach other target groups?

Promotion of such training should be done through women entrepreneurs’ associations, employers’ associations, chambers of commerce and crafts, who have a direct contact with women entrepreneurs. Promotion could also be done through social media and secondary and higher education institutions that have a direct contact with young women who will be stepping on the labor market soon after they complete their degree in education.

How could the training program be adapted to the local needs and circumstances?

The program could be adjusted to the industries where majority of women entrepreneurs in Croatia operate in: beauty and consulting industry. The training program could include case studies prepared on the real examples from those two industries.

How can the trainer education and adoption of the program be standardized?

It is difficult to standardize the quality of implementation of the program, it will always depend on the quality of the trainer and motivation of the participants. However, the trainers in implementation of the training program based on the developed Curriculum Prototype should be experts in digitalization for SMEs who have experience in working with micro businesses as clients, in particular with women-led businesses; entrepreneurship and small business experts – consultants and trainers and psychologists.

Are digitalization experts in general skilled to analyze business model of their clients coming from micro-business segment and help them to innovate based on introducing digital tools?

Successful digitalization experts need to understand different business models and invest time in understanding different industries in order to be able to provide optimal solution for their clients coming from micro-business segment. It is a key difference among those digitalization expert who are good and successful and those who struggle with finding clients.

Can impact on the market for the benefit of women led businesses be made with small digital marketing budget?

Yes, it can, if we think of investing in digital marketing than even with a small budget and the right approach – a huge impact could be made in terms of reaching out to the new clients, improving revenue and profitability of the business.

How could trainings include demonstration of the impact of digitalization on increasing income of the business in order to raise motivation of women to dedicate to the trainings?

Implementation of the training program based on the Curriculum Prototype should include real life examples from the practice with women-led businesses that have made a significant impact based on the introduced digitalization and digital tools in their business.

How other stakeholders could be involved in the implementation and promotion of such trainings?

Other stakeholders could serve as promotional channels. Therefore a training program should be promoted and implemented in cooperation with wide range of partners.

How to make trainings as efficient as possible for women entrepreneurs who often have challenges in balancing private and business life, taking the least time needed, including travelling? How to enable networking on-line for women entrepreneurs as a part of on-line delivered trainings?

The trainings should include virtual (online) and physical component in order to save time for travelling, be approachable in different occasions and times of a day / week (pre-recorded sessions), but it should also include onsite part of the training where women will be able to meet, network and establish contact with other participants and trainers. Networking should be enabled also online, through creation of special closed online groups (e.g. WhatsApp).

Do you think that the content of the trainings on digitalization could be adjusted specifically to the needs of women entrepreneurs in any sense?

Developed Curriculum Prototype consists of the right balance of the general topics that are useful for all micro and small businesses, and the specific topics that are targeting women entrepreneurship as a topic. No further adjustment is needed.

How can the Curriculum Prototype help women supporting organization and policy makers to improve the situation of women entrepreneurs in general and women facing difficult circumstances, but also SMEs in general?

The benefits could be various, from raising awareness of the specific challenges faced by the women entrepreneurs in general, promotion of women entrepreneurship and increasing the number, sustainability, and success of women-led businesses.

 

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Last change: 12/29/22.