As chair of the University of Colorado Deming Center for Entrepreneurship’s Women’s Council, one of the things I am privy to are studies and findings about entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, what motivates them, and how they became entrepreneurs in the first place. Recently I read a fascinating article sponsored by The Kauffman Foundation of Entrepreneurship titled The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Are Successful Women Entrepreneurs Different From Men?

Turns out that we know VERY little about women entrepreneurs. This is one of the first formal studies ever launched about them and the hope is, that by understanding what makes us tick, we can increase the total number of female entrepreneurs participating in our economy. One thing we do know: female entrepreneurs are not nearly as prevalent as they should be. For instance, according to another Kauffman Study (Robb, 2009), which followed, a group of firms founded in 2004, only about 30% of the primary owners were women.

So Kauffman set out to address this gap through a study of 549 respondents. The people included in the study were all successful entrepreneurs. Here are the highlights:

• Successful women and men entrepreneurs are similar in almost every respect. They had equivalent levels of education, early interest in starting their own business (about half had at least some interest), a strong desire to build wealth or capitalize on a business idea, access to funding, and they largely agreed on the top issues and challenges facing any entrepreneur.

• The top factors motivating women to become entrepreneurs were:

– The desire to build wealth
– The wish to capitalize on a business idea they had
– The appeal of a startup culture
– A long-standing desire to own their own company
– Working for someone else did not appeal to them

• The data showed no statistically significant differences in the life circumstances of men and women. The average age when founding their first companies were early 40’s; they had similar numbers of children living at home: one. Men were more likely than women to be married when starting their business (55% of women and 65% of men). In other words, they had similar life conditions.

• In a statistically significant difference, women, more than men, believe that prior industry work experience is crucial in the success of their start-up. In addition, women were much more likely than men – almost twice as likely – to secure their main funding from a business partner (27% Women vs 16% Men). They were also more likely to use personal savings to fund their businesses (68% versus 61%). I was not surprised to see that men were significantly more likely to fund their business through Venture Capital (17% Women vs 24% Men) or private/angel investors (15% Women vs 18% Men). Since I work in the field of investment banking, I have noticed that it is very rare for a woman owned business to either seek or procure VC or angel money. Part of my role as chair of the Women’s Council is to increase those percentages.

• When asked about the biggest challenges of starting a business, both men and women answered that the amount of time and effort required was the #1 challenge, closely followed by the difficulty of co-founder recruitment. Interestingly, 59% of women listed concerns about protecting the company’s intellectual capital as a big concern, versus 39% of men. I am glad to see this listed as a concern because protecting your intellectual property can be one of the most important ways to ensure financial success. Also, more men (52%) than women (46%) felt that the lack of available capital/financing was a major challenge.

Entrepreneurs have stereotypically had a masculine image – assertive, achievement-oriented, risk takers. It seems that women’s low representation among company founders reflects that stereotype. This study, however, shows the limits of that stereotype. In fact, successful men and women entrepreneurs share similar motivations, see the reasons for their success in largely the same way, secure funding using similar resources, and face many of the same challenges. Based on this research it certainly suggests that women can be at least as successful as men, if not more so in certain circumstances. So rock on ladies!

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is a 20+ year veteran and founder of four companies in the pet industry. As a Managing Director at SDR Ventures Investment Bank, Carol leads the team in executing pet industry transactions including mergers and acquisitions, capital formation and strategic advisory services. She is also the owner of BirdsEye Consulting, the consummate source for pet sector consulting expertise in licensing, executive recruiting; market research, and sales channel strategy. She can be reached at carol@carolfrank.com.