New study identifies the value of peer support for female entrepreneurs

The high value of peer support for female entrepreneurs has been identified in a new study covering the Irish startup ecosystem. 

  • Largest study undertaken of peer support among female entrepreneurs in Ireland
  • Peer support identified as valuable and in need of additional strategies
  • Peers offer motivation to female entrepreneurs to reach for higher expectations

The high value of peer support for female entrepreneurs has been identified in the largest study of its kind undertaken in Ireland.

The study, carried out at Ulster University Business School, surveyed participants on female entrepreneurship programmes sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, the state agency responsible for the development and growth of Irish companies in global markets, over the period 2013-2017.

The research found that the vast majority of participants on these programmes deemed peer support, where people in similar positions share knowledge or experience and provide emotional, social or practical help to each other, to be either very or extremely important to their venture.

The study also interviewed domain experts who identified the need to promote awareness of the benefits and understanding of the value of a peer support networks at key stages of venture development. This included access to high quality mentors, role models and networking events.

Researcher Helen Fullen, was inspired to carry out the study by her experience working with NDRC’s Female Founders. “I could see the central role that peer support played in their venture development, and I wanted to get a better understanding of the impact of peer support on a national scale,” she said. 

“The evidence we found in this study clearly demonstrates that female entrepreneurs turn to trusted peer support to share, motivate and sustain each other through the ups and downs of venture building.”

Specific findings from the study include:

The majority of respondents (86%) deemed peer support to be either very or extremely important to their venture and (83%) said the sharing of knowledge, information and resources was the most valuable aspect of that support.

  • Mentors are pivotal to peer support (81%) with Female Entrepreneurship Programmes (62%) providing a substantive source of peer support.
  • Peers help to reduce loneliness (78%) and they offer motivation to reach for higher expectations (80%).
  • Group discussions (70%) are the preferred way of learning, followed by informal one-to-one discussions (64%).
  • Almost all (85%) of respondents have stayed in touch with their peers following the completion of a shared female entrepreneurship programme. 

Female entrepreneurs turn to trusted peer support to share, motivate and sustain each other through the ups and downs of venture building

The study led to a number of recommendations, including the development of a cohesive strategy led by Enterprise Ireland to connect female entrepreneurs with networks and mentors, and to enable activities to increase awareness of the importance of peer support in entrepreneurship.

Commenting on the research findings, Sarita Johnson, Acting Head of HPSU Start at Enterprise Ireland said: “Enterprise Ireland supported 67 start-ups led by women in 2017 – this is four times the 2012 figure when just 17 female-led start-ups received support through our Competitive Start Fund and High Potential Start-Up programmes. 

“All start-ups face similar challenges and funding is a crucial kick-start. However, we have found that dedicated female business development programmes which facilitate peer-to-peer learning, are invaluable in navigating these early-stage challenges and driving ambition. 

“Networks are incredibly important to women and opportunities to engage at a peer-to-peer level contribute enormously to the success of our female entrepreneur progammes.”