Spotlight on women entrepreneurs

The Cayman Islands Investment Bureau recently invited Dr Andrea Smith-Hunter to the Cayman Islands for a session of mutual learning in celebration of Honouring Women Month 2009. While Dr Andrea 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. Second in a two part series.

Third book

Extending her research worldwide, Dr Andrea is now working on her third book that will examine women entrepreneurs globally, in an attempt to delineate differences and similarities between women entrepreneurs.

“According to research in the US, women contribute around 20 per cent of the GDP via the small businesses that they operate, and 95 per cent of companies in the US are small businesses, which are most likely to be operated by women. I wanted to see women were as important to a country’s economy the world over,” she confirms.

Thus Dr Andrea has compiled a standard questionnaire that she is using in countries worldwide. She has already researched the US, Brazil and Ghana and visited the Cayman Islands to cover the Caribbean part of her research. She intended to then head on to Western and Eastern Europe and Asia.

“In the Cayman Islands 47 per cent of the labour force are women and 65 per cent of entrepreneurs are women, so it is an important centre of research for me,” she explains.

How to compete with others

During her presentation hosted by the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau, Dr Andrea outlined various ways in which women could compete in the marketplace.

“Women need to find their own niche market. They need to offer good value and a quality product and they ought to use all technological resources available to them, especially the Internet. Relationships with suppliers and customers is essential as it the need to constantly reevaluate your position,” she said.

Downturn dilemmas

During a recessionary period Dr Andrea suggested streamlining businesses and cutting overheads while ensuring that access is gained to previously untapped sources.

“Think about what you can do for yourself instead of relying on others and think about what you can do that costs less or nothing at all. Pooling resources is another important move during tough times,” she confirmed.

“Note the warning signs that you business might be struggling,” she warned.

These might take the form of an unexpected decrease in orders, sales or revenue as well as a decrease in related business and or industries. Business women should look out if they are unable to pay their bills on time or if suppliers begin to reduce credit periods.

Common mistakes

From her extensive research, Dr Andrea said that not pre-researching a business and industry enough before embarking on a business was a frequently found issue for women entrepreneurs. Not having a plan or one that was not detailed enough was another issue, as was underestimating initial fixed costs as well as long term costs. Overestimating customer potential was another real issue facing women in today’s marketplace.


Dr Andrea urged business leaders in Cayman to compile local and national directories on women entrepreneurs across all business lines to be available to anyone who is interested. She also suggested surveying women entrepreneurs through existing associations to establish a baseline for technology, education and training requirements. Once that had been achieved she suggested generating the supporting training structures to assist women entrepreneurs.

Looking at the issue of credit, Dr Andrea said research should be conducted to find out what the main barriers were for women to obtain credit. Lobbying and campaigning for funds that women’s business associations could distribute to members might be a way forward in this issue, as could the examination of current laws to see whether they helped or hindered female entrepreneurial activities.

Simplifying the registration process for creating a business might be a good start as well as might be advocating to government that programmes should target encouraging women, the young and minorities into entrepreneurship.

Dr Andrea also suggested providing regular opportunities to exchange information at a national level on the experiences of women entrepreneurs in designing and implementing their business. Public awareness was an important tool to develop entrepreneurial skills of women.

Hot off the press:

US President Obama established a White House Council on Women and Girls in March. This Council will be charged with providing a coordinated federal response to the challenges confronting women and girls and to ensure that all Cabinet and Cabinet-level agencies consider how their policies and programmes impact women and families. The Council will be comprised of the heads (or their senior-level designees) of: the Cabinet agencies, certain other non-Cabinet agencies, and other Executive branch departments, agencies. Dr Andrea Smith-Hunter has recently been advised that she is to sit on the advisory Council for the Center for Women’s Business Research.