This entry is an excerpt from The Missing Entrepreneurs 2019: Policies for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, an OECD/European Union publication. Chapter 8 examines the role that public policy has in lowering barriers faced by under-represented or disadvantaged entrepreneurs. Policy advice is provided for local, regional and national governments, which is illustrated with good practice examples from European Union (EU) member states and non-EU OECD countries.
Starting Strong is a program designed to assist ambitious female entrepreneurs at an early-stage of business development with through training, mentoring and peer coaching.
Through a structured approach in six-month cycles, Starting Strong leverages volunteer contributions from successful entrepreneurs who lead peer support round tables. These volunteer "Lead Entrepreneurs" share knowledge with their group, nurture a culture of trust and collaboration, and facilitate the sharing of experiences and challenges. The approach provides support and “good” peer pressure, inspiring women entrepreneurs to achieve their goals.
Starting Strong was developed in 2014 by the Going for Growth initiative, which in 2015 won a European Enterprise Promotion Award in the Investing In Entrepreneurial Skills category, in response to demand by entrepreneurs with very strong growth potential, but without two years of revenue.
Starting Strong receives financial support from Enterprise Ireland, and financial and in-kind support from corporate sponsors.
To qualify for Starting Strong, candidates are required to be highly innovative, have a longer development cycle than the norm, and have very significant growth ambitions from the outset. Participating businesses typically have moved well beyond the concept stage, but remain in the early revenue stage. Having tested the initiative over two cycles, a further criterion was added: candidates must have generated some initial sales.
The 2019 cohort had 17 participants. The total combined turnover for participating businesses was EUR 2.4 million, which represented 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 75 people were employed by the participating businesses.
Program adjustments (based on participant input):
The barriers that Starting Strong participants identified most frequently related to funding, access to finance and cash flow. In response, Starting Strong leaders developed a set of tailored agendas and workshops to meet participants' specific stage of development needs and concerns.
Lessons for other initiatives:
Starting Strong uses peer-learning, which helps participants build resource networks with similarly ambitious entrepreneurs. This environment also creates positive peer pressure, motiving entrepreneurs to progress toward meeting their goals. As they achieve their initial growth objectives and begin to grow significantly, participants can apply to participate in the Going for Growth initiative. An important structural element of the initiative is the reliance on “Lead Entrepreneurs,” many of whom participated in the related Going for Growth initiative. This giving-back element reduces the need to recruit new entrepreneurs to support the initiative.