What’s the Difference Between Men and Women Entrepreneurs? Apparently, Not Much

There’s been a lot of heat generated in the blogosphere lately about the shortage of women entrepreneurs in technology and what’s behind this problem—or if it truly is a problem, or if it even exists. While many experts were weighing in on the differences between male and female startup founders, one expert decided to investigate.

Former entrepreneur-turned-academic Vivek Wadhwa, who blogs regularly on TechCrunch, and his team analyzed the backgrounds of 652 founders of tech industry startups, as well as 549 founders of companies in other fast-growing industries. “Our research focused on successful startups—those that had made it out of the garage, had employees, and were actually generating revenue,” writes Wadhwa on TechCrunch. Here’s what they found:

The average age of a successful tech startup founder is 39; for other high-growth companies, it was 40. Overall, company founders were typically married; had two or more children; had six to 10 years of work experience.

That explodes some myths about tech startup founders in general (they’re not all college students or single twentysomething men), but Wadhwa also wanted to take a closer look at male vs. female founders.  He enlisted Joanne Cohoon of the National Council of Women in Technology (NCWIT), whose analysts assessed the data. The result? There was almost no difference between men and women company founders.

  • Both had an equally strong passion to build wealth.
  • Both started their companies to capitalize on business ideas.
  • Both enjoyed the culture of startups.
  • Both were tired of working for a boss.
  • Both had a long-standing desire to own their own businesses.
  • Their average ages at startup were the same.
  • Men and women were equally likely to have children at home when they started their businesses. (However, men were more likely to be married.)

One difference: Wadhwa found that women got slightly more funding than did men from business partners. (You can read the full results in Are Successful Women Entrepreneurs Different from Men?)

Now, while Wadhwa didn’t find differences between male and female tech founders, he does emphasize that there is a real shortage of women entering technology. “The imbalance between the sexes … is increasing over time,” he writes. Among the discouraging realities: The percentage of computer science students who are female has dropped from 37 percent in 1985 to 19 percent today; just 1 percent of high-tech startups have a woman as CEO.

How can this change? Wadhwa shares some ideas on TechCrunch, but I’d love to hear yours as well.

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

13 Reactions
  1. Hi Rieva,
    I never expected there would be a difference and I would be quick to reply to someone who said so. My wife is an entrepreneur at heart and has started or helped start several companies. She is an active advisor for me in my company and I count you and Anita and a host of other women as advisors and mentors.

    I think if this study were done internationally they would find women outnumber men in starting new ventures, especially if you consider the micro-credit realm and the work Grameen Bank has done. My gut is there are more women starting companies than men.
    Sales Kickstart

  2. “Among the discouraging realities: The percentage of computer science students who are female has dropped from 37 percent in 1985 to 19 percent today.”

    Why is that discouraging? Don’t women have the right to choose their line of interest/work?

  3. If the numbers don’t show a huge difference, is it our perceptions that need to change?

  4. Dear Lord, when will this end? I completed high school in the mid seventies which means that I have now now been listening to this whinge for almost forty years.

    According to some, there are never enough women:
    -computer nerds
    -engineering nerds
    -rodeo riders
    -rodeo clowns

    It never ends. How about this this? Maybe we have the “right number” of women in these areas already?

    • Hi Colin,

      Your response made me laugh. A prayer, no less! Personally I’ve never complained based on my status as a woman. And in this case, I think Rieva was just pointing something out from an analytic standpoint.

      – Anita

  5. Colin – what blog post were you reading? This one says women are doing just as many start ups and get better funding.

    The bit about being discouraged because woman aren’t going into the computer sciences is purely editorial, though. There’s nothing discouraging about that unless they are being somehow discriminated from giving it a shot. Men have traditionally been at only 40% of all realtors, and in the last two years it has gone to 34%. Nobody is calling this “discouraging” because women obviously make better realtors or there would be more men able to make a living at it. The market is working and men are choosing something they’re good at instead.

    Here’s a discrepancy that should really be discouraging. 60% of all college graduates are women (was 7.9% in 1970) and only 40% are men, and the gap is continuing to widen. Now THAT is discouraging.

    • Yes I agree with Chuck Blakeman it is discouraging that women are out performing men in education from K-college. Back in the 80’s when boys out performed girls in education there was a huge out cry about the problem. And yes it was seen back then when girls trailed boys to be a problem but now that boys are the ones behind there’s hardly any mention of it. One gets the impression that mothers and fathers apparently love their daughters more than they love their sons else why aren’t they now concerned about the gender gap in education?

  6. I wonder if there’s differences in:
    How women run their companies vs. men
    Net profit overall of each
    Women’s home lives vs. men’s –interesting that they both had children, but more men had wives in addition…

    From my experience, there are significant differences between men and women in these areas.

  7. Casey,

    Read “The Illusions of Entrepreneurship” by Scott Shane, for some of the very significant differences in net profit, etc. But be careful, Shane uses a lot of statistics which Mark Twain equates with “damnable lies.” Enjoy the stats, but don’t take Shane’s personal conclusions as the gospel.

  8. I feel women have upper hand when it comes to entrepreneurship, of course the talent and skills is something unique irrespective of genders. But we have numerous examples today of how effectively women have done start ups and have been running the business successfully. In near future we will see more and more women in entrepreneurship, but it’s interesting to wait and watch how the number of women leaders rise in corporates. This aspect has lot of challenge and obstacles. I came across a blog post on women leadership which echoes my thoughts. You might find this interesting. http://www.vineetnayar.com/women-leadership-yes-she-can/

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