Cornell University and Bank of America are partnering to launch the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship with enrollment open from September 5th.
Core content will be developed and taught by Cornell faculty, with concepts broken down and interspersed with opportunities to reflect and relate information to each student’s experience. Unlike other online courses, which can be attended by vast numbers of people, Cornell’s e-course will be limited to 100 students with instructors facilitating discussions between students and teacher in groups of no more than 20 students. The university has already had success with its entrepreneurship e-course for women, with 1500 women completing the program.
Dr. Deborah Streeter is faculty director of the new institute and has spent decades teaching entrepreneurship and small business management with an acute understanding of the role gender plays. The number of women-owned businesses in the US grew by 74% between 1997 and 2015, but women continue to face the following challenges, Streeter explains:
- They may be geographically or otherwise isolated from other entrepreneurs.
- Studies show mentors, investors and bankers evaluate them differently than men.
- Their performances are judged harshly and their successes are credited more to luck, than talent or hard work.
- Work-life issues are more exacerbated.
While the curriculum will cover typical subjects like customer discovery and negotiation skills, Streeter says the courses differ in the way they specifically address both internal and external obstacles for women.
For example, Streeter says, “Some of the challenges are that 98 percent of the venture capital world is run by men, or that we’re challenged by stereotypes we’ve grown up with. There’s a narrow pathway between coming across as powerful and ambitious and also getting push back for being like that. The majority of the coursework is really practical, providing strategies for dealing with those things.”
Then, there’s access to capital as well as understanding and obtaining the right capital. It’s widely known that women ask for and receive less funding. However, Streeter points to a recent venture capital study showing return on investment in businesses run by women is actually higher than businesses run by men.
“The female-founded start-ups outperformed their male counterparts in terms of revenue, bringing in $730,000 over a five-year period versus $662,000 for the men. When you crunch the numbers, that means these women-run companies are returning 78 cents per dollar compared to 31 cents for the men.” (Source: BCG)
To combat the internal messages that may prevent or inhibit women from asking for funding or negotiating effectively, Streeter aims to educate women about understanding the network they need to have, which means going beyond their comfort level, operating more like male entrepreneurs and seeing ‘asking’ as part of the job of an entrepreneur.
But, women need to address more than their own confidence. The Harvard Business Review reported last year that VCs ask male and female entrepreneurs different questions and it affects how much funding they receive.
“Venture capitalists … tended to ask men questions about the potential for gains and women about the potential for losses. We found evidence of this bias with both male and female VCs.
Investors adopted what’s called a promotion orientation when quizzing male entrepreneurs, which means they focused on hopes, achievements, advancement, and ideals. Conversely, when questioning female entrepreneurs they embraced a prevention orientation, which is concerned with safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance.” (Source: HBR)
Streeter and her colleagues will address these specific obstacles with strategies to help female founders overcome inherent biases.
“Typically if women try to negotiate like a man they won’t be successful if they try in that fist-pounding way. So, it’s about finding a way to negotiate that works and also feels right. In pitching, research shows that women pitching are heard differently than men. Having that awareness that women get questioned more on their qualifications than men do is helpful in preparing for a pitch. With that in mind, maybe you put that right upfront; you talk about your value proposition as head of the company. That’s the kind of area where gender focus can create an impact.”
Who are the courses aimed at?
Women starting and/or building emerging for-profit businesses. The guideline is 3–5 years but the course is also relevant for a founder starting over or re-branding.
The target is to educate 5000 women in the next 4 years, with 200 in the pilot. There are no geographical boundaries, but English fluency is vital.
The course lasts 12 weeks, but participants can self-pace and take breaks with a certificate upon completion.
The curriculum includes six courses including how to talk to a customer, developing core leadership skills and understanding negotiation.