The Accelerator Advantage — Why Women Entrepreneurs Need It (Now More Than Ever)

When I started working with entrepreneurs about 3 years ago, I came across a statistic that shocked me — women founders receive only 2% of all venture capital available (this has since increased minimally to 3% — an indication of small progress, but progress nonetheless). This dumbfounded me because so many women entrepreneurs I know run thriving, successful businesses and so many of the entrepreneur role models I look up to are women.

Since then, I’ve met and worked with a number of truly amazing women entrepreneurs. I’ve heard firsthand horror stories about investors who wouldn’t give them the time of day because they thought that once they got married and had kids, they would close up shop and the investment would have been wasted. Or sometimes, investors couldn’t understand the need for their product or service because it catered exclusively to women, even if you showed them impressive growth numbers and promising trajectories. I’ve also learned that equity investment might not always be the right fit for all entrepreneurs, and that might be the case for a lot of women entrepreneurs. I’ve also done a bit more research on women entrepreneurship and studies show that despite increasing data and research that women-led businesses tend to be more successful companies, women entrepreneurs continue to be undermined due to negative biases. Add to that the feelings of impostor syndrome (our CEO Priya has written about her own bouts with it in her blog), undervaluing themselves, and self-selecting out of opportunities. Women entrepreneurs also face unique challenges in building and running their businesses. On top of managing the day-to-day operations of their businesses, many women are expected to lead family responsibilities at home — whether it be child-rearing, or household chores and upkeep — and these have all been even more challenging to manage with COVID-19.

Why should you join the WE Rise Accelerator?

We recognize the role accelerators can play in supporting women entrepreneurs and bridging the gender finance gap. At Villgro, we want to dispel the myth that women entrepreneurs are lacking in ambition because they are anything but. This is the reason why we’ve created WE Rise, our new accelerator program for women entrepreneurs. We believe that providing guided support to women entrepreneurs is crucial in building an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is inclusive and resilient.

Accelerator programs are not silver bullets for entrepreneurs

You do not enter an accelerator program and come out of it with all your problems magically solved. You can ask any entrepreneur who has participated in an incubation or acceleration program before that this is fact. But what accelerators provide are a fresh set of eyes to look at your business and provide strategic guidance on how to best help you grow and scale.

Accelerators provide entrepreneurs with access to top-notch mentors and networks that can unlock new opportunities to reach more customers or receive investment. With the world of finance so often dominated by men, so many financing opportunities tend to be shut out for women, whether as deliberate decisions or products of unconscious bias.

WE Rise aims to break those barriers by partnering with a local banking institution to provide low-interest collateral-free loans to women entrepreneurs. It is our belief that by getting the foot in the door for women entrepreneurs, we can help them build credit history so that they can access larger sums of money for growth financing in the future. It is necessary to get women entrepreneurs the opportunity to do so to provide a pathway for scale, and see more successful women entrepreneurs in the next few years.

Accelerators create communities & support circles

My favorite thing about working in accelerators has always been the sense of community that a cohort of entrepreneurs creates. There is a sort of unbreakable bond that entrepreneurs have when they meet others who deeply understand what they have gone through.

The journey of entrepreneurship can oftentimes be lonely and frustrating, and there is no better support group to navigate those shared challenges and emotions than with fellow entrepreneurs. I have been witness to so many spontaneous friendships and so many opportunities that have transformed into real and meaningful collaborations, all because of being in the same accelerator program.

We believe that the WE Rise program can become a safe space for women entrepreneurs to share their stories, cheer each other on collective wins, and comfort each other on struggles faced. Given the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face — especially challenges exacerbated by COVID-19 — we hope that WE Rise becomes a platform for women to listen and learn from each other and help each other bounce back better.

Customised Programs, One-on-one Mentorship — An Accelerator that celebrates diverse businesses

It is undeniable that enterprises that join accelerator programs can sometimes be vastly different from one another. These differences can sometimes be a hindrance to achieving the learning outcomes an accelerator aims to fulfill. This is a common pitfall or disadvantage that accelerator programs have, and one that we were mindful of when we started conceptualizing the program. In our design of the WE Rise accelerator, a big part of our program strategy is to provide one-on-one customized support to women entrepreneurs. This enables us to assess each company and recommend specific strategies tailored to the needs of each business. Each enterprise gets a dedicated business mentor and will have regular meeting hours with them each month. At the start of the program, each company goes through a diagnostic panel. Together with their mentors, enterprises will form a plan for the next 10 months detailing the milestones they aim to achieve. Throughout the course of the program, we will be tracking progress against those identified milestones. The program will also focus on building capacity in financial management and investment readiness to ensure that women entrepreneurs are equipped with skills necessary to unlock capital for further growth.

Enjoy the experience, cherish the journey

As much as we’ve put careful thought into the WE Rise program and thought of the ideal learning journey for women entrepreneurs selected to join us, the truth is that each journey will not be entirely the same for everyone. You’ll learn things that might be unique to your line of business and uncover truths about yourself that are informed by your own personal experiences as a woman entrepreneur. This diversity in learning experiences is what will make the program an even more enriching one and in the process, our team at Villgro will also learn how best to support women entrepreneurs as we go along. Our hope is that by doing so, we can take these learnings to share with the ecosystem and help more entrepreneurs further down the road.

Together, let’s rise up, support each other, and bounce back better in a way that only women can.

About the Author: Katherine Khoo is a Program Manager at Villgro Philippines. She leads the Impact Pioneers network, ShelterTech Accelerator, and ReachHealth Innovation Challenge. She has worked on other accelerator programs such as the ISIP Social Impact Accelerator and ASEAN Impact Challenge Global Goals Labs. She is an active community builder and frequent facilitator of Startup Weekend events in the Philippines. You can reach her at kath@villgrophilippines.org

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