Op-Eds

What are the challenges to Latin America’s high-impact female entrepreneurs?

This guest article was submitted by the Endeavor Campus Team from Endeavor Colombia.

Paradoxically, men currently design many of the products and services aimed at women and girls. Even in an era that constantly calls for diversity, it is not strange to imagine a room full of men thinking of products that are eminently feminine. Why is this happening? Why is female entrepreneurship so scarce, even though there is a massive market opportunity for products serving women?

In recent years, the participation of women in the entrepreneurial ecosystem has increased considerably. Globally, the activity of women entrepreneurs grew by 10% within the past years. However, many of these new ventures are not high-impact companies. Therefore, they do not generate a significant impact on jobs, billing, or social responsibility.  Second of all, much of this growth occurred in developed markets like North America, Western Europe, and Australia. Latin America, Asia, and Africa hold a relatively low share of growing female entrepreneurship.

To understand a little bit more about the challenges and opportunities of leading a venture as a female entrepreneur, we spoke with two Colombian founders from the Endeavor Colombia Network: Gigliola Aycardi, co-founder of Bodytech, and Lilian Simbaqueba, founder of LiSim. Both Bodytech and LiSim are leaders in their sectors, in Colombia and Latin America, and are clear examples of high-impact businesses led by female founders.

Bodytech is one of the largest gym chains in Colombia, with over 85 branches across the country. LiSim provides credit risk analysis “scoring” models and specialized consulting to the microfinance sector. Both women have been entrepreneurs for over 20 years.

Finding the founder mentality

At first glance, it could be said that barriers for men and women are similar when starting a business. However, women often face an added dilemma: the clash between the role of the entrepreneur and the traditional role of mother and wife.

Gigliola Aycardi believes this dilemma prevents women entrepreneurs from going beyond a local business:

“I think the important thing is to think big. Many women think that their entrepreneurship can be a side business to their normal life as mothers or as wives or as housewives, and they think that their enterprise can be a florist, or that they can sell purses or make clothes. That is to say, things that do not really generate a high impact at an employment, billing or social level”.

Aycardi’s recommendation is to find a balance:

“I think that if we want to break this small businesses paradigm we have to have a healthy balance and it is important to think that the role of an entrepreneur is think big from the beginning and not be subject to social paradigms such as having a different role in society.”

For Lilian Simbaqueba, the issue is about an attitude that generally makes men more efficient:

“Women have less history than men in entrepreneurship, we have less time doing this. That’s why sometimes we lack more mental openness to receive help, to accept collaboration, right? We want to do everything, we tend to put too much emphasis on the details. So, in the meantime, we do not take the distance to see and be able to push things in a more efficient way as men do.”

However, Simbaqueba does not suggest that women should appropriate masculine behavior. On the contrary, she suggests that the qualities that, many times, are overlooked in the business environment should be strengthened:

“I think that, without becoming men, women should be able to grow more and have more impact, we have to learn, from our qualities, to have that ability to take greater distance, to release more, delegate better, be more strategic. I think that when we manage to do big things, we manage to do them with more social, more human characteristics, which is what defines us as women. Having impact in that way is even more interesting.

Unique challenges for female entrepreneurs

Gigliola Aycardi is an entrepreneur because she did not want to work for anyone. She never lasted more than a year in any job. Since she wanted to work for herself, she studied an MBA to gain the additional knowledge she needed to be independent. From the beginning, she and Nicolás Loaiza, co-founder of Bodytech, thought of the business as a full-time enterprise.

“Entrepreneurship has to be something 24/7,” explains Aycardi.

Those first days did not come without fear; Aycardi’s mother mortgaged her home to finance them. If they failed, their family would be homeless. They even calculated that they would have to work 20 years to pay off all the debts. However, that was not an impediment for them to start.

Today, Aycardi has found a balance:

“In my case, my husband is my balance.  He does some stuff and I do others, within the familiar role, makes life easier.”

These challenges came later for Lilian Simbaqueba. At the beginning, she had her company for fun. She was doing well, she traveled around the world, she was learning and was happy. Her business brought her income, but she didn’t mind if it wasn’t scaling too quickly.

The difficulty came when her company grew and she became part of the Endeavor Network. It was difficult to focus her hyperactivity. Then came the sale of LiSim.

Although it was the key to her company’s growth, it was not easy. Simbaqueba remembers this as another essential element for women entrepreneurs:

“Many women need that ability to let go so that their ventures become what they really can be.”

 

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