Boston Ecosystem Report: Women Entrepreneurs Making Gains but Face Funding and Networking Barriers

Office of Communications | July 21, 2017
Banu Özkazanç-Pan (center) confers with her College of Management colleagues.

Banu Özkazanç-Pan (center) confers with her College of Management colleagues.
Image by: John Gillooly

While women have made gains in business ownership, they face barriers related to funding and accessing growth capital, according to a team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Pennsylvania, and University of North Carolina Asheville.

Led by UMass Boston Professor of Management Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, researchers spent the past year studying the regional entrepreneurial ecosystems in St. Louis, Missouri, and Boston, Massachusetts, focused on understanding the opportunities and challenges for women entrepreneurs in each respective city and region.

Researchers interviewed close to 190 individuals, who included entrepreneurs, investors, and leadership at various incubators, accelerators, networking groups, and educational platforms. These findings are available in a newly released report.

“Our research is both timely and important in terms of understanding why certain inclusion efforts in ecosystems may lead to success while other efforts lead to continued exclusion for women entrepreneurs,” Ozkazanc-Pan said.

In St. Louis, the team found that women entrepreneurs represent close to 45 percent of all business owners compared to 33 percent in Boston, based on 2012 Census data. One of the contributing factors to the rapid rise in the number of women-owned businesses in St. Louis is the cohesive nature of the ecosystem fueled by grassroots efforts of prominent male entrepreneurs and women-focused entrepreneurship support organizations. Their efforts to make St. Louis a great place for entrepreneurship have also resulted in the mainstreaming of gender as important for the growth of the ecosystem. Despite these developments, women face challenges related to scaling their businesses. New, bold efforts including Brazen and the St. Louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective are tackling these and other issues with the aim of overcoming all barriers for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

In Boston, the fragmented nature of the ecosystem means women entrepreneurs still face challenges related to scaling their businesses and accessing valuable resources and networks. Groups such as SheStarts, BREAD, Innovation Women, and Accelerate Boston are making strides to address these issues and close the gender and race gap in entrepreneurship. Concurrently, accelerators can also contribute to these efforts through effective outreach to women and minorities and releasing diversity metrics. Investors can also play a prominent role in making Boston the best city for entrepreneurship by funding more women-led ventures.

One of the highlights of the report includes discussion of the pioneering efforts of the City of Boston and their Women Entrepreneurs Boston (WE BOS) program that was launched by Mayor Marty Walsh in 2015 and advances women entrepreneurs by connecting them to the resources and networks they need to start and grow their businesses. Led by Kara Miller, WE BOS is a national leader in efforts to support and grow women-led businesses, and has contributed to discussions led by the National Women’s Business Council on building inclusive ecosystems.

"We are committed to making our startup ecosystem here in Boston more inclusive of women. Thirty-five percent of Boston businesses are women-led, and they generate $3.3 billion in revenue, yet the startup community has been traditionally male dominated," Mayor Walsh said. "Women Entrepreneurs Boston (WE BOS) has and will continue to empower women to create and grow their own successful businesses. Together, we will prioritize increasing economic opportunity for all of our women entrepreneurs."

With these growing efforts, the report finds that Boston is poised to become a leader in the nation for building an inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem and supporting economic development across the city.

About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit

Tags: banu özkazanç-pan , city of boston , college of management , entrepreneurship , women entrepreneurs

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