Increasing the number of female entrepreneurs is a key priority in the EU for economic and social development reasons. The lack of female entrepreneurs is most evident in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Despite high profile role models, overall female innovativeness and participation in the technology sector have decreased and, ”an unconscious bias” still prevails.
Much could be achieved by helping the small but growing number of females studying/working in STEM to identify entrepreneurial opportunities and build confidence in their business skills. Looking at the good practices in the field, we identified the WISE (Women entrepreneurs in STEM) project as an initiative developed with a clear goal of increasing the number of female entrepreneurs in STEM in 4 European countries, Norway, United Kindom, Ireland and Germany, by transforming their access to and the quality of the training they receive from entrepreneurship Vocational Education and Training (VET) institutions. The project builds on a VET Regional Multi-Stakeholder Partnership approach and cross-sectoral fertilization. The partnerships’ aim was to 1) devise formative assessment of learning gaps, learning objectives and pedagogical recommendations for Startups in STEM open education resources, 2) build social capital 3) identified specific skills and competences for transforming access to and quality of training for WE in STEM. A partnership of 6 partners implemented the project: Omagh Enterprise Company and Canice Consulting Limited from the UK, FH Münster University of Applied Sciences from Germany, European Centre for Women and Technology (ECWT) from Norway, Momentum Marketing services and Leitrim County Council from Ireland, with the support from the European Union.
The project desired to address the lack of knowledge, need for action plans and toolkits to increase the number of women STEM entrepreneurs through VET education partnerships. The project convenes actors at all levels across the (VET system and the beneficiaries to promote change that is sustainable in the long term. By involving aspiring female STEM entrepreneurs and graduates at the heart of our VET response, the voice of business is central to the partnership’s activity.
The project had a multidimensional effect for the addressed regions: a) Increased number of female entrepreneurs in STEM by transforming their access to and the quality of the training they receive from entrepreneurship VET institutions b) Economic growth and a win-win for businesses, and for VET Business Alliances more effective career guidance & work placement, as well as access to untapped talent and competence-skills workforce were created. But most importantly, female entrepreneurs received experience in a high growth STEM enterprise for a structured 4-week placement period and access to a STEM support toolkit & Community.
All resources developed by the project are available on-line, interested parties are welcome to contact project partners for transfer of knowledge and sharing of experiences and can reach them at https://stementrepreneurs.eu. The project can be easily replicated in any country where VET education actors’ sincere interest is to build strategic partnerships for supporting more women STEM entrepreneurs in the region.
According to Eva Fabry, Director of the ECWT, within the three years of the project lifetime, a databank with 122 good examples from Europe was launched, delivered 4 national Action plans, and on-line collaborative Learning and Knowledge Exchange platform shared the experiences of participants learning placements and the massive awareness-raising that the project has created. ECWT and project partners built a solid community of practice and the partnership continues to work together and welcomes expression of interest to join and replicate the project.