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19th Jun 2019

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Women shun EU-funded site for female entrepreneurs

  • Women make up only around 30 percent of start-up entrepreneurs (Photo: Rawpixel)

When Elis Mutlu moved to the Czech Republic last year to set up her own company, she discovered the EU-funded website Wegate, which promotes itself as a gateway for female entrepreneurship.

Wegate was set up in 2016 in light of the fact that women make up only 34.4 percent of the self-employed in the EU, and around 30 percent of start-up entrepreneurs.

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  • The portal advertises itself as 'a one-stop shop for female entrepreneurship' (Photo: Screenshot wegate.eu)

"Wegate is a one-stop shop for female entrepreneurship, bringing together not only women entrepreneurs, but also their mentors, policy-makers and all relevant stakeholders and supporters," the website's homepage said.

However, Mutlu was a bit disappointed by the experience.

"I was looking for a mentor," she told EUobserver on Thursday (16 August). Mutlu, who has both Bulgarian and Turkish citizenship, hardly spoke Czech and was facing a language barrier. "But I couldn't find any mentor in the Czech Republic," she said.

Mutlu is one of only three women in the Czech Republic that are currently part of the Wegate community.

Other EU countries are also poorly represented, with only three women from Austria and just one from Latvia.

But the total number of users is also low.

According to the European Commission data from June 2018, the Wegate website had 821 registered users, of which 638 were entrepreneurs, mentors and/or ambassadors, and 182 were organisations.

When EUobserver revealed to Mutlu the total number of users, she said this was much lower than she had expected.

"Europe is such a big continent, it should be much more," she noted.

To put the figure in context: there were around 10.3 million female entrepreneurs in the EU in 2012, according to an EU-commissioned study.

Silence on the forum

The most forlorn section of the website is the forum, which is the digital equivalent of a wasteland.

The latest contribution to the forum was written more than five months ago, by someone who asked what should be done on international women's day – a question which received only one reply - posted five days after women's day.

Another post tried to kickstart a debate about whether governments should intervene to achieve gender equality – but no one replied.

There are three other forum topics which were started over a year ago, to which no one ever replied – and one post from a (male) researcher asking website users to fill out a survey.

Commission: 'working on it'

The commission said it was aware of the situation.

"We are working on improving the platform: adapting it to target a larger audience, also by addressing business support organisations and stakeholders actively engaged in supporting women entrepreneurs, rather than the individual women entrepreneurs themselves," said a commission spokeswoman.

"In the future, Wegate will also serve as a tool to map the relevant organisations all over the EU, to allow them to share information about successful initiatives effectively supporting women entrepreneurs on the ground, or news about relevant events or studies," she added.

When EUobserver pointed out that the current Wegate platform already collected news and offered a list of relevant organisations, the spokeswoman merely repeated the same answer.

"A communication and outreach campaign will also be launched at the beginning of 2019 in a few pilot EU member states to make the platform more widely known," she said.

However, that would not be the first time.

The responsible EU commissioner, Elzbieta Bienkowska, recently told MEPs that the platform and its content "are being regularly promoted through social media" and that there had been a "stakeholder, press and social media campaign before, during and after its launch".

The website was launched at an event in Brussels in September 2016, and hailed by Isabel Raventos, vice-chairwoman of the Women Entrepreneurship Platform, a not-for-profit lobby group.

Promotional video for the Wegate launch event

"We have great expectations for this project," said Raventos in a video of the launch party.

But a Youtube video promoting the website, uploaded that same month, had been viewed only 324 times as of Thursday (16 August).

Since 2016, the EU has spent €1.2m on the website, which was set up by one contractor, Everis, and now run by another, ICF Mostra.

The contract with ICF Mostra runs until next year, and the commission said that a new contract would be set up shortly.

It also pointed out that user and forum numbers alone are not all that counted when measuring success – and that the website's secretariat has also been responding to questions from women entrepreneurs privately.

Community members may also have been in touch with each other privately.

Improvement

Elis Mutlu said that before EUobserver had asked her about her membership, it had been "a couple of months" since she had visited Wegate. She checked the website before the interview.

"It feels like they find the information on the web and they just put it on their web page," she said, suggesting that more editing is needed.

However, she also said there were improvements compared to the last time she had visited the website.

Mutlu was therefore keeping her Wegate profile.

"I want to get in contact with other women entrepreneurs all around Europe later on," she said.

It is unclear if the overall situation has improved, because the most recent EU data on female entrepreneurs dates from September 2014 – two years before the website's launch.

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