Starting a business is a challenge for anyone, but for female entrepreneurs, it can be especially difficult to access the seed and growth capital new ventures need to thrive: in 2019, approximately 3% of venture capital globally went to companies founded by all-female teams.
Fifteen years ago, EY set out to better understand the obstacles women face in scaling their businesses. The initial research revealed that while women create many companies, only a handful manage to achieve significant scale and growth. It was clear that female-led ventures needed access to a wider entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In 2008, EY sought to meet this need with the launch of its Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ programme. The initiative targets female entrepreneurs, owners and founders in Europe and elsewhere who have built profitable companies with revenues higher than €1 million but do not yet have the essential tools to scale sustainably. Each year, a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs are accepted into the programme and provided with evergreen access to EY’s vast resources, rich networks and know-how, helping them to think bigger and strengthen their abilities to become market leaders.
The global initiative is divided by region, and the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme for EMEIA is composed of four chapters spanning Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Turkey. By sharing their goals and challenges, a diverse group of EY professionals located in these various geographies become participants’ role models, advisors and friends.
These connections make all the difference, according to programme alumna Rachel Pendered, Founder and Managing Director, Media Zoo, United Kingdom; EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Europe, Class of 2021:
‘The women, the knowledge and the support are priceless. I truly feel as if I am part of something very special and unique. I am beyond grateful to EY for this extraordinary initiative.’
Over the past 15 years, the programme has grown from one country and five entrepreneurs to a vibrant global community of successful women entrepreneurs and inspiring peer role models spanning 55 countries and over 800 alumnae. This has created a ripple effect of positive change within communities and industries around the world.
In 2017, EY conducted the first-ever global study to evaluate the programme’s impact on previous participants. The feedback revealed that since becoming ‘Entrepreneurial Winning Women’, they have experienced an average compound annual growth rate of 35% and an average headcount growth of 166%.
The reason for this, says Natasa Nikolic, EY EMEIA Entrepreneurial Winning Women Lead, is:
‘Belonging to communities that inspire and empower entrepreneurs is key for women to realise their ambitions. This drives my passion for bringing people together to collaborate and make a difference.’
Just one example of the initiative’s positive impact in Europe is Netherlands-based alumna Mariah Mansvelt Beck. After being diagnosed with cervical cancer, she cofounded Yoni. The company produces organic cotton sanitary products, like the kind healthcare providers recommended for her after her diagnosis. Growth in businesses like hers can be attributed to the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme’s unique combination of valuable insights, mentorship and access to vital resources. With these key elements, the initiative empowers women entrepreneurs to achieve sustainable and significant growth in their businesses.
According to Kath Carter, EY Global Talent Leader, Strategy and Transactions, EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Global Executive Sponsor:
‘Engaging more than 806 founders worldwide since inception, our Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme provides access to high-value networks and creates affirming communities of women entrepreneurs across the globe. Studies show these close connections among women entrepreneurs is a key factor to their long-term success.’
Going forward, the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme will expand its footprint by reaching untapped markets and engaging with women entrepreneurs who have not yet participated. Additionally, the initiative seeks to emphasise greater access to finance, recognising the crucial role it plays in scaling businesses.
By championing ambitious women entrepreneurs, the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme shows other female business leaders in Europe and around the world what they can achieve. In this way, EY helps women fulfil their ambitions and turn their visions into businesses masterpieces, one entrepreneur at a time.