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In 2012, there were 40.6 million entrepreneurs active in Europe-37, of whom 29% were women (11.6 million). The percentage of women entrepreneurs was slightly higher in the European Union (EU-28) at 31% (10.3 million). These numbers are very similar to the ones encountered in 4 years before, as in 2008 the percentage of women entrepreneurs was 30% for Europe-37 and 28% for EU-28.

This percentage of women entrepreneurs of the total entrepreneurs varied considerable between countries. With 43%, Liechtenstein had the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs, followed by Latvia (40%), Lithuania (40%) and Luxembourg (39%). With 15%, Turkey had the lowest percentage followed by Malta (18%) and Ireland (20%). 

As for Portugal, in 2012, around 38% of all entrepreneurs were women. Most of these were solo entrepreneurs (80%) and work full-time – 41% of women entrepreneurs where part-time workers in their enterprise, which was a significantly higher proportion than the EU-28 average (30%). The 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), report 6,2% of the adult population in Portugal are women entrepreneurs.

Those 38% of Women Entrepreneurs in Portugal represented, in 2012, 366.000 women from which 73,000 employed personnel other than themselves. 

Comparing to five years earlier, the number of women entrepreneurs in Portugal have decreased, since 2008, by 28%, while the number of men entrepreneurs also decreased, but by a lesser margin – 12%. Regarding the number of women employing personnel in Portugal, it has also decreased, by 8%, while the number of men entrepreneurs with personnel decreased by 23%. All these indicators had a higher fall than the EU-28 average for the same period 

As a fact, the EU average in the same period showed some stability, with women entrepreneurs increasing by 2% and men decreasing 1%. For the analysis of that data, one has to take in to account the period of special economic instability that the country experienced during those years, including an FMI+EC+ECB program for financial assistance.

The entrepreneurship rate expresses the percentage of entrepreneurs in the total active labour force. It is a good indicator to compare the entrepreneurial level of women and men in and between countries. Regarding this, the female Entrepreneurship Rate in Portugal, in 2012, was 17%, which was higher than in the EU-28 average rate – 10%. The male Entrepreneurship Rate was also higher in Portugal – 25% – then the EU-28.

The Statistical Data on Women Entrepreneurs in Europe report, by the European Commission in September 2014, reveals that in 2012, Portugal was in the top five countries with the highest entrepreneurship rate for women.

These women entrepreneurs stand out in the total number of entrepreneurs in the sectors of other service activities, human health and social work activities, and education. The lowest proportions were found in construction, transportation and storage and information and communication. The EU-28 sectors with higher percentages of Women Entrepreneurs where accommodation and food services activities, agriculture, forestry, and fishing, and, in common with Portugal, other service activities. The lower proportion is found in the sector of arts, entertainment, and recreation. 

As for age, Portuguese women entrepreneurs characterize by being slightly younger than men entrepreneurs, with indications of some generation gaps. In 2012, in the age group of 15-24 years, the proportion of women entrepreneurs was higher than men entrepreneurs, as the proportion in the group of 65 years and over, was the opposite of that and lower than the EU-28 average.

Possibly because of the above, the average education level of women entrepreneurs in Portugal is higher than that of men entrepreneurs. In 2012, the proportion of women entrepreneurs with a high education level was slightly higher than that of men entrepreneurs and, the proportion in the low education level category was again the opposite. However, compared to the total EU, women entrepreneurs in Portugal are still significantly lower educated. 

Overcoming the fear of failure and taking risks is vital for any business in development. In this sense, the 2015 Amway Global Entrepreneurship Report (AGER) reflects that the fear of failure is an important barrier for women entrepreneurship in Portugal: 72% of women refer fear when thinking of starting up a business of their own, compared to 69% of men. That reflects the Portuguese deficit of women’s participation in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, which can be overcome with the creation of conditions favourable to its appearance, like the following:

  1. Female entrepreneurship inclusivity: Programs primarily directed at female entrepreneurs should be encouraged by the government and private stakeholders. This could be through trainings, familiarization events and access to finance. Stereotypes about gender and entrepreneurship need to be broken down through aggressive campaigns. 
  2. Review of entrepreneurship education: In addition to establishing gender sensitive trainings, there needs to be a renovation of the education system in Portugal. These renovations should include making courses more hands on than being theoretical. Finally, avenues to encourage entrepreneurship or create start-ups at secondary and university level should be established. 
  3. Increase incentives in relevant areas: Increased incentives to companies in Portugal, through tax cuts and subsidies, increase in R&D investment, higher scholarships, and grants at the university level for students. 
  4. Leverage on the role of accelerators and Incubators: Increase in accelerators role in investing in start-ups. Strategic partnerships between government, investments funds and accelerators. Increased funding for accelerators and incubators in Portugal. 
  5. Improving funding opportunities/options for start-ups: Increase funding and funding rounds for start-ups in Portugal by implementing the recommendations provided above. Also creating alternative capital options to equity such as interest free loans up to a certain amount for seed funding or at the achievement of business milestone. 
  6. Rewarding employment generation: Increased incentives for start-ups with greater potential of employment generation through fiscal schemes. Encouraging immigration of high skilled workers and entrepreneurs to Portugal by reducing immigration requirements and costs. 
  7. Create platforms to monitor and measure progress: Relevant stakeholder including the government should develop universal but relevant metrics to measure and monitor the performance of the Portuguese start-up ecosystem. Leveraging on the ICT infrastructure and skills present in Portugal, there should be a centralised database containing these metrics with easy access for certified players in the start-up ecosystem.

The EC promotes and supports female entrepreneurship through the Small Business Act and the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan. One of the Commission’s main initiatives is to support networking among female entrepreneurs, potential female entrepreneurs, and support organizations

Examples of that are, by one side, the EU Prize for Women Innovators, awarded to women who have received EU research and innovation funding at some point in their careers, and recently founded or co-founded a successful company based on their innovative ideas, and by other side, the several tools supported:

  • WEgate-platform: a one-stop-shop for women entrepreneurship.
  • The European Community of Women Business Angels and women entrepreneurs.
  • The European network to promote women’s entrepreneurship (WES).
  • The European network of female entrepreneurship ambassadors.
  • The European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs.

According to recent survey from the European Commission, Portuguese Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) account for 67% of total value added and provide 79% of total employment in the country. These companies are mostly run by entrepreneurs who have identified a business opportunity and risked. Men and women with a taste for risk, for thinking about innovation and the development of new products. 

According to the when speaking positively about entrepreneurship, women respond with 53% versus 60% of men. What is more significant about the theme of entrepreneurial potential is the fact that, in practice, the female sex represents five percentage points less (36%) than the male sex (41%).


Current situation of female entrepreneurs in the EU: 

• women constitute 52% of the total European population but only 34.4% of the EU self-employed and 30% of start-up entrepreneurs 

• female creativity and entrepreneurial potential are an under-exploited source of economic growth and jobs that should be further developed. 

Main challenges faced by female entrepreneurs 

When establishing and running a business, women face challenges such as: 

  • access to finance 
  • access to information 
  • training 
  • access to networks for business purposes 
  • reconciling business and family concerns.


– World Review of Entrepreneurship Management and Sustainable Development · December 2017 

– Data from Statistical Data on Women Entrepreneurs in Europe Country Fiche Portugal, European Commission September – 2014 

– GEM – Women’s Entrepreneurship 2016/2017 Report 

– Entrepreneurship at a Glance, OECD publishing, Paris. http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/industry-andservices/entrepreneurship-at-a-glance_22266941 

– OECD Gender Data Portal: http://www.oecd.org/gender/data/entrepreneurship.htm 

– Figures from Policy Brief on Women’s Entrepreneurship, LEED (Local Economic and Employment Development) Programme of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) with the financial support of the European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. 


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