Bridging the gap : increasing women student participation in university business plan competitions

Spindler, Kristin Cain
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

This study addresses the gender gap in higher education entrepreneurship and seeks to gain insights into structural ways business plan competitions can be improved to enhance participation and successful outcomes for women participants. My research seeks to understand how the field might narrow the entrepreneurial gender gap due to the high opportunity cost of not having women entrepreneurs participate fully in the economy and stand on an equal footing with men. A review of the literature 1) highlights university business plan competitions as a practical hands-on learning experience to teach entrepreneurship skills, and 2) identifies critical barriers to increase women student participation rates in university business plan competitions. Previous research indicates these competitions develop participants’ entrepreneurial skills, self-confidence, and propensity for risk-taking and provide valuable networks (Barr et al., 2009; Russell et al, 2008; Watson et al, 2018). What is not as well-known is why women participation in university business plan competitions has been and remains low. Women lag men on critical measures of startup activity and funding (Brush et al., 2014; Guzman & Kacperczyk, 2019; Mitchell, 2011), although some evidence suggests that women-owned startups generate higher growth and greater return on investment than male-owned startups (Abouzahr et al, 2018). This study uses a qualitative approach to understand women student participation rates for given time periods as well as which best practices improve women participation in these competitions based on interviews with experienced directors of three Texas universities. Three major themes emerged from the interviews as increasing women student participation: 1) structured for women to win, 2) language of inclusivity, and 3) confidence to play big. Finally, my research provides recommendations and strategies to improve the competitions’ processes to increase participation rates of women students.