Awareness to action: developing women’s entrepreneurship in the Eastern Partnership

  • Date: 08/12/22
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Women’s entrepreneurship and innovation in Eastern partner countries was the focus of the Women4Digital Future virtual networking event on 28 November 2022. EU4Digital ICT Innovation hosted the meeting, which gathered together more than 70 participants from around 60 women-led innovative businesses and Eastern Partnership ecosystem organisations and experts working on women’s entrepreneurship. 

Ministerial level representatives, agencies coordinating the development of innovation ecosystems and other players such as innovation, financial support and consultancy organisations that empower start-up ecosystems, ICT business associations and women’s support organisations joined the call. The discussion explored existing gaps in empowerment as well as available support opportunities within the EU.  

“The smart thing to do”

EU4Digital Facility Team Leader Mr. Artūras Piliponis opened the event and introduced the EU4Digital programme. Mr. Thibault Charlet, Programme Manager on Digital and Economic Development at DG NEAR (European Commission) then gave the keynote speech, presenting the EU priorities and introducing some of the EU-funded programmes that address women’s entrepreneurship, financial inclusion and digital skills, and which are accessible to organisations in the Eastern Partnership region. For example, WEgate supports women entrepreneurs in starting and building up their businesses; the Womenat platform is the European network for professional women in the digital economy; and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Women in Business programme provides financing and business advice.  His key message was that gender equality has a strong positive impact on GDP and supporting women’s economic empowerment, financial inclusion and innovation is vital for economic growth, prosperity, and competitiveness.

Enabling women’s economic empowerment is not only the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do

Thibault Charlet, Programme Manager on Digital and Economic Development at DG NEAR (European Commission)

Mentorship opportunities

Participants were then introduced to Women Go Tech – a successful mentorship programme started in Lithuania, which encourages women to choose careers in ICT and engineering.
Co-founder Ms. Žydrūnė Vitaitė presented the initiative, noting that women are often in a minority in tech teams and decision-making groups. This was her own experience working in the tech industry, which inspired her to “do something extra” to change the situation.

Women represent only one-fifth of specialists in the ICT industry. With likeminded people, we created and established the first mentorship programme for women to join the technology industry.

Žydrūnė Vitaitė, co-founder of Women Go Tech

Tech embraces a wide choice of professional opportunities beyond coding, Žydrūnė Vitaitė  explained, introducing the ‘Discover Tech’ orientation course that was an important component in educating women about potential career opportunities and creating a 10,000-strong participant pool for the mentorship programme. Women Go Tech in English is expanding to include Central and Eastern Europe, so EaP participants are welcome. Moreover, the Women Go Tech experience inspired the EU4Digital Facility to develop its guidebook on Setting up mentorship programmes to bridge the gender gap in ICT in the Eastern partner countries. She was the key expert to share Lithuanian best practices with the event participants, and is continuing collaboration to develop similar programmes in the Eastern partner countries, with the focus currently on Georgia.

The non-profit, non-political professional organisation Women Business Angels (WBA) featured in the second part of the event. This enables women and men to become ‘angel investors’ (individuals who provide capital for a business or start-up) and internationally competitive entrepreneurs. Ms. Renata Anna Jaksa, who is a project manager at WBA, gave an overview of the support and services provided, which include policy advocacy to address the challenges women face.

It’s not only about the money. It’s also the mentoring, the training, the talking, the networking, the connections.

Ms. Renata Anna Jaksa, WBA Project manager

WINGATE is a project implemented jointly with WBA. It offers an innovative online knowledge centre for women-owned enterprises, providing a unique opportunity for angel investments, including in some of the Eastern partner countries such as Moldova.

Investment and funding

Finally, Ms. Carina Klaffl, the co-CEO of Female Founderspresented this 65,000-strong community of investors, operators, business professionals and entrepreneurial leaders, as well as a variety of opportunities for female-led start-ups. The organisation provides the 3-month ‘Women Lead F’ leadership programme as well as the 3-month ‘Grow F’ investment readiness accelerator for female-led ventures. Female Founders also hosts Europe’s leading events for female entrepreneurship, ‘Lead Today. Shape Tomorrow.’ and ‘DEI Bootcamp’, which bring together European companies to generate new business contacts and contracts. Carina Klaffl talked about the tendency for women to be over mentored and under-funded even while significant funding for women entrepreneurs is available both in the EU and in the Eastern Partnership. To fill this gap, the European venture fund ‘Fund F’ will back gender-diverse founder teams.

Gender diversity is one of the biggest untapped opportunities that we see in the tech ecosystem: for us, tech and entrepreneurial women equals an equal future.

Ms. Carina Klaffl, co-CEO of Female Founders

From awareness to action

As a moderator of the event, EU4Digital ICT Innovation stream leader Ms. Anna Pobol expressed gratitude for the openness of the EU organisations to share best practices and cooperation opportunities with EaP stakeholders. She emphasised the importance of proactiveness for the EaP innovation ecosystem organisations – taking organisations from awareness of opportunities to action. She said this networking event was the start of a journey and results are expected in the form of new partnerships and new joiners in the communities and initiatives of the EU organisations.

European Commission presentation
Women Go Tech presentation
Women Business Angels presentation
Female Founders presentation

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