IT Start-ups: Where are the Women?

Woman at Work

Why do women receive less than five percent of the funding to start IT firms? Why do they lag behind men in patenting IT ideas and moving their ideas out of the university and into the marketplace?

On behalf of [begin link /]NCWIT[end link], and with support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, we consulted the social science literature for answers to these questions.

Our intention was to summarize for an interested, non-specialist audience what the research tells us. We produced a series of four articles that couple a reasonably thorough literature search with highlights on selected papers. Methodological issues and more detailed discussions are relegated to footnotes. (We are academics after all!) A bibliography with full citations is provided at the end of each paper. The papers will appear here one at a time over the next few weeks, beginning today. The first paper is on gender difference in firm size, growth, and persistence of entrepreneurial IT firms.

For a number of years, social science researchers believed that male-founded firms were more successful than female-founded firms because the firms started by men grew faster. As more recent scholars note, however, there are two problems with this early scholarship. First, the empirical data about relative growth rates is highly contradictory, and there is no strong pattern in the empirical data demonstrating that firms led by men grow more rapidly.

Second, recent scholars question whether firm growth is a good measure of success in all cases. Instead of equating growth with success, more recent research measures success against the objectives of the founder. An entrepreneur might want, for example, to assure his or her continued ownership of the firm and thus choose not to seek equity funding that could dilute the founder's control. A byproduct of this strategy would be lower growth.

In addition to giving the (often contradictory) empirical data about gender differences in number of employees, amount of revenue, profitability, business failure rate, and desire to grow the business, the first paper discusses founder intentions and motivations, and differences in the characteristics of businesses started by women who have a high-growth strategy compared to those who have not set growth as a priority.

The topics of the other three papers are:

  • gender differences in social networks of IT entrepreneurs
  • gender differences in access to capital for starting a business
  • psychological factors related to IT entrepreneurship

Click here read the first article.



William Aspray and J. McGrath Cohoon are NCWIT social scientists conducting research on women and IT entrepreneurism as part of a project supported by the Kauffman Foundation.