This entry is an excerpt from the OECD/European Union publication The Missing Entrepreneurs 2019: Policies for Inclusive Entrepreneurship. Chapter 8 of this report examines the role that public policy can have in lowering barriers to scale-up faced by entrepreneurs from groups that are under-represented or disadvantaged in entrepreneurship. Policy advice is provided for national, regional and local governments and is illustrated with good practice examples from European Union (EU) Member States and non-EU OECD countries.
Starting Strong is a program designed for ambitious female entrepreneurs who are at an early-stage of business development, with the following types of intervention: Training, mentoring and peer coaching.
The initiative leverages volunteer contributions from successful entrepreneurs, who facilitate peer support round tables through a structured approach in six-month cycles. These are referred to as Lead Entrepreneurs. They share their experience with their group, nurture a culture of trust and collaboration and facilitate the sharing of experiences and challenges. This approach provides support and “good” peer pressure and inspires women entrepreneurs to achieve their goals.
The initiative was developed in 2014 by the Going for Growth initiative, which was the winner of a European Enterprise Promotion Award 2015 in the Investing In Entrepreneurial Skills category. Starting Strong was launched in response to demand by those who had very strong growth potential, but had not yet achieved two years revenues.
The initiative receives financial support from Enterprise Ireland, and financial and in-kind support from corporate sponsors.
Participants’ businesses have typically moved well beyond the concept stage but remain in the early revenue stage.
To qualify for Starting Strong, candidates were initially required to be highly innovative, to have a longer development cycle than the norm and to have very significant growth ambitions from the outset. Having tested the initiative over two cycles, a further criterion was added- candidates must have generated at least some sales.
The 2019 cohort has 17 participants. Total combined turnover for the businesses is EUR 2.4 million, which is an increase of almost EUR 500 000 over the cycle (21%). At the end of the cycle, nine of the participants had export experience and there were 75 people employed in the participants’ businesses.
Program adjustments based on participant input:
The barriers that all the Starting Strong participants identify most frequently relate to funding, access to finance and cash flow. Reflecting these perceived barriers, a set of tailored agendas and workshops have been developed to meet the specific stage of development needs and concerns of Starting Strong participants.
Lessons for other initiatives:
This initiative uses peer-learning, which can help participants build their networks with similarly ambitious entrepreneurs. This environment can also create some positive peer pressure to help motive the entrepreneurs to achieve their goals. As they achieve their initial growth goals and begin to grow significantly, participants of Starting Strong can apply for participation in Going for Growth. An important element of the structure of the initiative is the use of “Lead Entrepreneurs”, who may be graduates of the related initiative Going for Growth. This giving-back element reduces the need to recruit new successful entrepreneurs to help run the initiative