Sharon Nunes, Vice President, IBM Green Innovations Maxine L. Savitz, General Manager for Technology Partnerships, Honeywell Inc., Retired, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Conservation, U.S. Department of Energy Judith Giordan, Senior Advisor, National Collegiate Innovators and Inventors Alliance Lucinda Sanders, CEO and Co-founder, National Center for Women & Information Technology
Sharon Nunes addressed the occurrence of entrepreneurship within a large company, that she termed intrapreneurship. Specifically, she commented on the factors that contribute to success in this arena and emphasized the need for understanding the markets to help identify future gaps, trends, needs, and technical developments. She commented that it is exceedingly important to be able to articulate a vision to effectively “sell” the idea, to know how the project will make money, and above all, to deliver. She noted the importance of diversifying the project team to include those with technical, financial, and operational skills, and market analyzers, and other professionals who complement one another in order to create a successful leadership team. She indicated that dedication, perseverance, confidence, passion and an appetite for risk were other necessary attributes for successful intrapreneurship.
Nunes stated that significant challenges exist for the concept of intrapreneurship, beginning with the notion that innovation only occurs in small, nimble companies. Large companies may provide a larger safety net for ventures and steady employment that may appeal to a greater number of people. Therefore, she emphasized the importance of risk-taking, but cautioned against avoiding market signals.
Finally, to encourage women’s participation in the field, she offered a few suggestions. She remarked that women who began their careers at large companies, and who have advanced to leadership roles, may increase the participation of women in venture capital endeavors. She commented that women are particularly interested in social entrepreneurship and this may provide a gate-way to increasing female participation in general entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. Lastly, she commented that persistence is imperative and suggested that once
an individual develops a reputation for delivering on their promises, gender differences no longer exist.
Maxine L. Savitz discussed her diverse experiences as an entrepreneur, both in the industry and the government. She specifically elaborated on the entrepreneurial opportunities offered by government agencies at all organizational levels. To help identify the possibilities for creativity and innovation in the government, Savitz drew parallels between industry and the government, highlighting the following features:
• Funding: Congress, like venture capitalists, expects justification of allocated funds. Thus, as in the corporate sector, government workers need to build sound business plans and carry out extensive expenditure analysis before committing their limited resources in a new venture.
• Personality: Both sectors require entrepreneurs to be on the lookout for possible opportunities, be willing to take risks, and be flexible in making the most of an opportunity.
• Collaboration: Linking research, development, and policy-making helps create more efficient products for both private and public sectors. Creative and technical analysis is important for building innovative and efficient public policies that can be readily implemented in conjunction with the needs of industry.
• Trend Identification: As in commercial markets, Savitz suggested that opportunities for government agencies can also be very dynamic. For example, the energy sector has moved from being a mainly private sector commodity in the 1960s, to a majority public sector today. In recent years, the share of industry in utilities is again increasing, necessitating a further shift in government policies.
Finally, Savitz emphasized the importance of passion in identifying those areas of entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship that will lead to one’s success.
Judith Giordan began by emphasizing the important differences women can make in business. She noted that Fortune 500 companies with the best records of promoting women to senior leadership were 18 to 69 percent more profitable than median companies in their industries; high gender diversity in the management of European companies led to more profitable stock performance; and companies with three or more women on their board outperformed the competition on all measures by at least 40 percent. These statistics have begun to shape global perceptions of the important role of women in business, where countries such as Norway have instituted mandatory quotas for gender diversity.
Explicitly looking at entrepreneurship, Giordan commented that half of all U.S. investment capital comes from women, but only 10 percent of traditional mutual fund managers and only 3 percent of hedge fund managers are women. She emphasized that even the venture
capital community acknowledges an implicit bias towards white males, which presents a barrier for both women and men of color. This, she argued, is demonstrated by the fact that only 3 percent of all venture capital funding goes to companies with women CEOs, with 44 percent of those women-led firms located in the healthcare sector.
Giordan further noted that the best predictor of success for entrepreneurial women is confidence; women with greater opportunities for professional networking were also more successful and satisfied with their jobs, as compared to peers with fewer professional networking opportunities. She commented that male and female perceptions may play a large role in advancement and opportunity development. Specifically, male managers perceive more of an even playing field for women to advance than do female managers. Additionally, female managers have more positive perceptions of women’s attitudes toward advancement than male managers. Giordan noted that male managers overestimated the amount of home-related stress experienced by women relative to the amount of conflict reported by women themselves. She suggested that this leads to women being passed-over for career opportunities because of perceived time constraints induced by family responsibilities. She urged women to gain confidence, consider themselves as equals, and be proactive in invoking change. Giordan stressed the importance of diversity and its ability to lead organizations to better decisions and better actions. Women and men may differ in their propensity for collaboration, seeking long-term results, competition, and risk-taking, but these attributes are all valuable, and a balance among them is imperative.
Social entrepreneurship, for-profit entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship all require change. Giordan emphasized that in order to create change, women need to be proactive and take action. She stressed that it is critical that women build both personal and business value to develop entrepreneurial credibility. Giordan emphasized the importance of understanding personal motivations and objectives; service driven ventures are valuable and legitimate, for example, but they do not lead to profits comparable to those produced by venture capital funds for other industries. She noted that for women aiming to succeed in the latter, they need to seek early-stage funding. Less than 10 percent of all angel funding proposals were submitted by women, but were funded at equal rates to men, suggesting that women need to ask more frequently in order to close the gender gap.
Lucinda Sanders reflected briefly on the status of women in information technology (IT) companies, where women start less than 5 percent of all new companies, hold less than 5 percent of all IT patents, and occupy less than 5 percent of all corporate technology leadership positions. Looking forward, Sanders discussed her observations from a series of interviews with women serial entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and social entrepreneurs. During the 40 interviews conducted with successful technical women, Sanders noted that the interviewees consistently touched on the following themes.
• They did not recognize themselves as successful in math and science as young girls, but rather evolved into technical innovators at later career stages.
• All cited the importance of mentors, beginning with their parents and recognized mentors who aided in starting ventures, risk-taking, and power-sharing.
• The women indicated that success in entrepreneurship results from the following attributes: patience, passion, persistence, and teamwork.
• Most found work-life balance difficult, but recognized that success was about integrating work priorities into life.
• None of the women mentioned gender issues on their own accord when discussing entrepreneurship, and the interviewers did not initiate discussion of this topic.
Sanders concluded that these female IT innovators evolved over time both in their interest in entrepreneurship and in their confidence to succeed. She then drew on her own experiences, first as an intrapreneur, and currently as a social entrepreneur, to emphasize the differences between such endeavors. Specifically, she commented that as a social entrepreneur, resources are limited and the jobs may be exhausting, but the rewards are high and the passion for making a difference is important. She reiterated that providing educational opportunities may be the logical next step for motivating and preparing the next generation of entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and social entrepreneurs.