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World Entrepreneurship Forum Boosts Women Entrepreneurs

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A growth-centric global economy requires constant activity centered on supporting entrepreneurial endeavors and job creation, and is vital in order to have a vibrant economic climate. There are more than one hundred and twenty million women entrepreneurs worldwide and, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women's Report (GEM), the overall economy would benefit significantly from an uptick in actively encouraging entrepreneurial efforts of women, via recognition and support through education and other resources.

We are kicking off the 6th annual Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), a menu of events around the world that bring together millions of people through web-based and live activities, supporting women entrepreneurs and their essential contributions to our world economic health and well-being.

Leading up to GEW was The World Entrepreneurship Forum, an international organization focused on tackling our world's most pressing issues with entrepreneurial solutions through a spotlight on boosting women's entrepreneurship. At this year's annual conference in Singapore earlier this month, I was invited to moderate a panel and represent the U.S. perspective on women's entrepreneurship.

I used the GEMs Women's Report to frame the conversation. Here are some key findings:

• Traditional gender roles are still affecting some women's abilities to be entrepreneurial
• Women lack confidence
• Too many women world-wide are solopreneurs, with no employees
• Not enough women are starting scalable businesses
• Women need to pursue global markets
• Women need a network of entrepreneurial role models and mentors
• The leading cause of business failure for women across developing and industrial nations is lack of access to capital

My panel featured three women who provided insight on their business experience and the state of women's entrepreneurship in their countries.

Mpho Mahanyele is a second-generation entrepreneur from South Africa. Her father was the first black South African to own a business in her country post-Apartheid. She took the helm of the family business more than 10 years ago. The company CabWorld, (Pty) Ltd. manufactures steel products such as buses; ambulances; police vehicles; mobile clinics and mobile banks, employing 180 staff including 167 artisans. Ms. Mahanyele's career has been around business development and building economic sustainability through skills development, job creation and social upliftment projects. She shared information on the real hardship that women have in South Africa to get access to capital and seek role models in business, since the modern South Africa is still such a young country.

BRA Mooryati Soedibyo is Founder & President of Mustika Ratu, an Indonesian manufacturer of herbal cosmetics and natural supplements. This 85-year-old dynamo is a legendary entrepreneur and mentor of women entrepreneurs in her country. She couldn't even start her business until she was 45 and raised her five children. She was forbidden to have a job because her husband was a civil servant with the government. She built her network marketing business to 4,000 sales people and employees and over $38 Million in revenue. She also earned a PhD in strategic marketing in 2007 from the University of Indonesia. The crowd was mesmerized to hear her story of becoming the world's only known royal to become a successful self-made entrepreneur. Her products are sold across the globe in Canada, Netherlands, Japan, The Middle East, Russia, Bulgaria, Taiwan and Malaysia. She also created Women Entrepreneurship Academy in 2011 in Jakarta, Indonesia to train more women to go into business. She said there is plenty of opportunity to start a business in her country, but there is a lack of education and skills.

Anna-Lena Johansson is a former entrepreneur and Head of Business Development Department, Business Region Göteborg Sweden. Since 2007, Ms. Johansson works at the public company Business Region Göteborg (BRG) where she is responsible for promoting and stimulating entrepreneurship, business development and growth for small business owners. BRG has also created and runs the growth program "Expedition Forward." BRG also runs a "Business Emergency" where small companies with financial problems can get advising free of charge. One of her main tasks was to promote entrepreneurship in the Swedish education system. She said that her country really supports gender equity by offering Swedish families 18 months parental leave per child per family and 60 days of the leave must be used by the father. The government also provides free childcare, but it's mainly available to those who are employed. Also, she said that most women in Sweden are starting businesses in the public sector (health, family services and education), which is mainly controlled by the government sector and public policies that make it extremely difficult to start a business that competes with the government.

Many of the young women in the audience asked questions about work/life balance as an entrepreneur and how to start a business when cultural standards are to get a good job and live at home until marriage. We gave these women valuable advice:

1) Choose your life partner well. An unsupportive spouse and kill a business faster than a bad marketing plan.
2) Don't just focus on business. Be present wherever you all and focus on having a personal life too.
3) Believe you can do it. Be confident in your skills. Today's women entrepreneurs are more educated than their male counterparts.
4) Build a network. Continue to attend conferences around the world to network and meet successful women entrepreneurs.
5) Seek out mentors. Be willing to ask for help. Too many women are not willing to leverage other people's knowledge and capacity.
6) Don't be limited by where you are located. Think globally.
7) Don't worry about your family. If you are worried about going against your family's wishes for your career, tell them about your plan once it is well researched. Keep in mind that they will always love you, but you need to live your own life.
8) Don't limit yourself to your own skills. Be willing to partner with others to grow and hire employees as soon as you can.
9) Pursuing a business education can't hurt. Pursuing an international MBA can create an incredible network for you one day when you need venture capital to back your business idea.

Next year's World Entrepreneurship Forum Conference is Oct 12-15, 2014 in Lyon, France. The Forum has already brought together more than 600 members from 75 countries. I sure hope women's entrepreneurship is back on the agenda.

Please share your thoughts on how to support women's entrepreneurship worldwide.

Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady, is America's #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business startup, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9 p.m. ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works and the ebook: How To Become A Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.