Spotlight on women entrepreneurs

The Cayman Islands Investment Bureau recently invited Andrea Smith-Hunter to the Cayman Islands for a session of mutual learning in celebration of Honouring Women Month 2009. While Smith-Hunter spoke to a packed audience of mainly female Cayman business women on survival techniques for women entrepreneurs, she also seized upon the opportunity to research the audience for a future book devoted to exploring how women operate as entrepreneurs all over the world. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull spent some time with this inspiring professor and author and reports. First in a two part series.

The topic of women entrepreneurs has been close to the heart of Andrea Smith-Hunter for a number of years, having written her thesis for her doctorate on women entrepreneurs who were operating in the environs of her home in Albany, upstate New York. So important was this body of work that she was approached to turn it into her first book, titled Diversity and Entrepreneurship: Analyzing Successful Entrepreneurs.

Dr Andrea, an associate professor at Siena College in Loundonville, New York, says she was keen to examine, in particular, the conditions and issues facing minority women in business versus white women and compare and contrast these issues.

“I wanted to explore how women became and existed as entrepreneurs across all racial lines. I therefore interviewed women from a cross section of backgrounds and races – Caucasians, African Americans, Asian Americans and American Indians. It was a fascinating journey for me to discover what each group had in common and how they operated differently,” she states.

The importance of networking

Buoyed by success of her first book, Dr Andrea sought to extend her research to the entire US, for her second book titled Women Entrepreneurship across racial lines: Issues of Human Capital, Financial capital and Network Structures. Dr Andre says she wanted to explore more deeply the issue of race and the part it played in a woman’s ability to operate successfully as an entrepreneur, so she set about interviewing 240 women from across the United States, half of whom were Caucasian and half from minority groups. Via this research Dr Andrea found that key to the success of both white and minority women was the use they made of networks to further them in their endeavours, yet the type of networks each group employed differed, according to Dr Andrea.

“Networks include who you know, how they can help you and crucially who they know as a secondary link for the entrepreneur,” she says. “Interestingly I found minority women used the resources from their close personal networks of family and friends to give them a helping hand in the business world – a relative might help them with their accounts, a friend may help out with their business plan and so on. Caucasian women tended to veer toward more formal network structures for assistance, such as their bank, Chamber of Commerce or other business association.”

Key success pointers

Dr Andrea also found that there were two further key aspects of business that could make or break a female entrepreneur. Human capital skills, gleaned from formal education as well as experiences were vital, as was the individual’s ability to access financial capital.

She says, “Across the board the women I interviewed, the human capital element was higher in Caucasian women. They were more likely to pull from the experience they had gleaned from working in the same line of business, for example perhaps a family member had already established themselves in the same business and they had then used that opportunity to learn the basics of their business. Minority women tended to be more likely to be their family’s first generation of entrepreneurs.”

Dr Andrea says that Caucasian women had tended to think thoroughly and carefully about establishing their business, perhaps born out of the fact that they had not had to establish their business out of necessity, but more out of a desire to seize a business opportunity.

“Minority women were more likely to have established their business to create an income in order for them to survive,” she explains.

Across the board of those women she interviewed Dr Andrea found that women were most likely to use their personal savings to establish their business, no matter their race.

However, getting a bank loan had proved to be more difficult for minorities rather than Caucasian women, as the latter were again more likely to lean on their family who would be able to guaranty their loan and provide collateral to the lending organisation.

“This lack of collateral proved to be a significant drawback for minority women looking to borrow to finance their business,” she said.

Dax Basdeo, executive director with the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau was delighted to have hosted Dr Andrea and says, “The Investment Bureau was thrilled to host someone of Dr. Andrea Smith-Hunter’s calibre as our key note speaker for Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs this year. The extensive research she has done on female entrepreneurs around the world helped inform her insightful contributions to the forum and make her recommendations extremely credible. Her address, alongside those of our local speakers, painted a picture of optimism and possibility even in an economic downturn and I think that was the key message that local entrepreneurs needed to hear to keep going in these challenging times. Smith-Hunter would like to include feedback from female Caymanian entrepreneurs in her next book and we would certainly welcome the opportunity to assist wherever we can with that.

In next month’s article Dr Andrea discusses her third book and gives sound words of advise for Cayman’s female entrepreneurs.



CIIB’s Deputy Director (L) Ms. Patricia Ulett and her daughter Maeve Ulett