PERSPECTIVE: Time to Arm Our Girls to be Entrepreneurs

by Jennifer Openshaw If there are millions of teachers and nurses needed, why on earth should we be equipping our girls to be entrepreneurs? People like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, or even Oprah Winfrey?

It’s all about the numbers, in Connecticut and beyond.

It turns out, that that “entrepreneurial mindset” – the ability to solve problems, adapt to new situations, and execute -- will be one of the single most important qualities to a successful future.

Did you know that 40% of the US workforce -- 50 million people -- will be operating in a ‘gig’ economy just by 2020?  Further, as David Noble, head of the Entrepreneurship Institute at UConn told me: “Employers today are asking: ‘So, show me what you’ve done.’”

But why girls?

Over the last 10 years, the needle has hardly moved for women.

Here we are, and still just 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, 14% of engineers are women, and just 36% of women are entrepreneurs.

We need to change this – today -- and we can’t rely on our schools alone. Here’s why.

First, girls have tremendous capabilities that have gone ignored.  It turns out that even in college, young girls excel in entrepreneurship. In our study, just 18% of college women participated in business competitions, but they overwhelmingly ranked at the top: a whopping 60% of the winning teams had a woman on the founding team and 40% had a female CEO. And they took home the bulk of the prize money - $90,000 of $180,000.

Yet, without early exposure, girls opt-out of these economic opportunities. Even dads understand this: “This is business conditioning my daughter needs; it starts now,” said Dr. Steve Allard, the father of one Girls with Impact member.

Second, early lack of confidence holds girls back. Research by Proctor & Gamble highlights the particular fears of failure that girls face in high school. Those fears – like the pressure to please others or a sense that society will reject them if they fail -  prevent potential entrepreneurs or CEOs from emerging into the marketplace with their unique products and services, ultimately creating a drag on our economic productivity as a nation.

Confidence, we’ve heard, comes from execution. Early results from Girls With Impact finds that, after the 12-week “mini-MBA program, 4 out of 5 parents said they saw a difference in the confidence in their daughters. And girls themselves showed a 140% improvement in their confidence in leading teams and overwhelmingly said they are benefitting with college prep, business and financial skills, and handling rejection.

“I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel powerful,” is how Greenwich High student Jody Bell, 16, described her experience. (watch what girls are building)

The time is now. From technology that allows the delivery of these programs affordably to the pent-up desire of men and women to enable and empower the next generation, it’s never been a better time.

These programs can address the “disconnect” with extra-curricular activities, says Harvard entrepreneurship professor Lynda Applegate, between what students are doing versus what “they could be doing to build their futures.”

Plus, companies focused on innovation – and driving gender diversity with more women -- are wondering how and where they can find the next best talent.

There is just no question that our daughters are the answer to this and more. They have the capability to lead from the top – as CEOs and entrepreneurs. We just need to give them the tools.


Jennifer Openshaw is CEO of Girls With Impact (, the only entrepreneur and leadership program created just for girls.  @jopenshaw  @girlswithimpact 

Applications are now being accepted for the Girls with Impact six week Summer Program.  More information here; application form here