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23 March 2022

Women entrepreneurs breaking barriers for a sustainable future

Women entrepreneurs

For 2022, the United Nations (UN) theme for the commemoration of International Women’s Day was ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ – celebrating the work of women and girls in fighting climate change and ending the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the organization, over the last 50 years, human activities – in particular, the burning of fossil fuels – have released enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses to affect the global climate. Unfortunately, women from emerging and developing economies are increasingly being seen as more vulnerable than men due to the negative impacts of climate change. 

As global warming and its effect on climate change continue to harm our planet, women entrepreneurs are leading the charge in developing innovative solutions to tackle their negative effects and build a more sustainable future for all.

Accelerate 2030: supporting groundbreaking women innovators

Impact Hub is committed to supporting inclusion, diversity and innovation for climate change. Programs like Accelerate2030 –  the world’s leading program for entrepreneurial solutions towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – aims to bridge the gap by channelling needed funding and technical support for SDG solutions in the global south. Initiated by Impact Hub Geneva, the program brings together impact-driven companies, corporates, UN agencies, financial institutions, international development organizations, and other partners to connect and collaborate on scaling the most promising innovations across the globe. In the latest cohort, over 50% of ventures supported by Accelerate2030 were women-led.

In the Accelerate 2030 program, we have gained access to people who actually know how to get funding, which is one of our main problems as early-stage ventures… It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to expose yourself as an entrepreneur and to take your business to the next level.”  – Mariola Urgellés Ventura, Founder of Sunspectra

In 2020, the program launched its 4th edition in 20 countries around the globe. In 5 pilot countries – China, Croatia, Colombia, Nigeria, and Turkey – the program provided a specially curated scale-readiness program, integrating the “future-fit business” framework of the circular economy into the curriculum. 

Through mentoring sessions with experts from Accelerate2030, Pijakbumi team and I were able to clarify our impact ambitions and map out those bigger possibilities into critical priorities that are more feasible to achieve with our current resources and capacities. Thus we believe great things start small.” – Vania Audrey Pakpahan  – Co-Founder of Pijak Bumi

The program will allow for supporting more women-led ventures like Daniela Arias – Co-Founder & COO of Sibö & Co-Founder of CRIC – Costa Rica Insect Company. With the help of Accelerate2030, the Impact Hub Global Network, the UK government, and Dutch universities, she was able to restructure CRIC and launch their Amsterdam-based parent company, Sibö, to produce insect-based protein snacks and innovative biomaterials for the European market. This expansion has allowed them to produce locally in Costa Rica and think globally on their journey to scale.

For women like Accelerate2030’s global finalist Florencia Salcedo – PhD, Co-founder & Head of Research & Development of Unibio -, the need for innovations for climate change is deeply personal.

“I was born in Paraná, Entre Rios, one of the cities most affected by agrochemicals pollution in Argentina. The extensive use of toxic pesticides in agricultural production has negatively affected the local biodiversity and is making people sick. I felt the urge and curiosity to find out what I could possibly do. I was convinced that it was necessary to work on the development of new technologies to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture and thus take care of nature and human health. As a scientist, I decided to accept this challenge”, says Florencia.

Florencia’s company works with pesticide companies to create a new range of products that are as effective as traditional ones used by farmers, but less harmful for the environment and people.

Tackling challenges faced by women entrepreneurs

Being an entrepreneur does not come without its challenges, especially for women. According to the OECD, they are less likely to receive funding for their businesses than their male counterparts and currently make up only 13% of environmental innovators. They are also faced with the challenge of changing business as usual.

Today, there are many corporations that are still accustomed to traditional economic models and have not yet understood the importance of the concept of sustainability. Explaining to them the importance of the climate crisis, why they need to be truly sustainable, and to prevent greenwashing in the projects we develop together are among the most challenging things I have had to face.” – says Zehra Solmaz, Sales & Corporate Partnerships Manager at Ecording, Accelerate2030 Global Finalist.

Furthermore, women entrepreneurs face challenges derived from patriarchal societal and cultural norms that cut across geographies.

“Women belong in the kitchen” – I was raised in this culture and many still believe this. Today, there are people who, influenced by this type of message, perpetrate discrimination and violence against women. The idea of a woman having a company or leading her own business is rejected by this type of stereotype, as many see that, of course, she’ll fail and be harassed in all forms, as I experienced. I’ve never let gender, color, or religion stand in the way of my goals. Women’s self-worth can be influenced by aspects that transcend gender identity, and their accomplishments can be derived from raising awareness of their role and highlighting the success of working women. Indeed, Sudanese women have begun to become aware of their rights and have been on the front lines of the Sudanese revolution’s demonstrations. There is no turning back now, as the future belongs to us”, says Baraa Eisa, Co-founder & COO of T.joint, Accelerate2030 Global Finalist.

As mentioned above, another challenge faced by women-led ventures is access to finance. While the private impact investing market is estimated to be worth $33 billion in assets worldwide, funding for Sustainable Development Goals-related solutions in the Global South is still too small to meet the region’s needs for change. Only 6% of blended and impact funding goes to emerging economies, and only a fraction of that goes to women-led ventures.

This is despite the fact that investing in women pays. According to Forbes, “When Venture Capitals invest in women, they make more money. Research has shown that female leadership can impact business performance and overall growth. In a survey of more than 350 startups, Mass Challenge and BCG found that women-run businesses deliver higher revenues, equating to more than twice as much per dollar invested.”

Finance is key because where capital goes, things get done. Where capital doesn’t go, things dry up… We need to ensure that the financial system is encouraging the companies in which they’re investing to move to a more regenerative approach” – Marie Laurie-Schaufelberger, Head of ESG & Stewardship for the Pictet Group, speaking at Factory 17.

Supporting women-led ventures is key to building a sustainable future for all. Women are already breaking many barriers, but we need to further support them for continuous business growth and impact scaling-up.

Impact Hub and Accelerate2030 are at the forefront of pushing for equality in entrepreneurship. Learn more about our work here.