In September 2020, the Women & Economic Renewal Chair (Chaire Femmes et Renouveau Economique or FERE) initiated a vast research program, aiming at a better understanding of women entrepreneurs' place in Disadavantaged Urban Neighborhoods (Quartiers prioritaires des villes or QPV) in France, the United States, Lebanon, South Africa, Senegal, and soon within the EU.
Séverine Le Loarne, Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, specialist in women's entrepreneurship and holder of the FERE Chair, sheds light on the initial results of an unprecedented action research in the Villeneuve district of Grenoble.
Why did you choose this research topic?
For more than 40 years, numerous international scientific studies have been conducted on women's entrepreneurship. However, this research has mainly focused on highly educated women from higher socio-professional categories (CSP). Thus, there are cultural invariants and variables linked to the context. Entrepreneurship for women in the United States, including in Silicon Valley, is as difficult as it is in France.
Our research focuses on women's entrepreneurship on a daily basis, to which we add the dimension of Disadvantaged Urban Neighborhoods. Until now, existing research has focused on small projects, with limited resources and a repayment rate of 8%!
In the field, however, there are people who, in essence, know how to get things started. This is the case for women entrepreneurs in the Villeneuve district of Grenoble, who set up a Franco-African sewing prototyping platform, for example. These women entrepreneurs think big, and are creative and multicultural. They develop their own activity, while de facto integrating an international dimension. QPVs go against conventional wisdom: they often represent markets with potential where business acumen is developed. Some women have their own micro-business and generate €80,000 in annual sales!
Given the initial results of your research in Grenoble, what are the main characteristics of women's entrepreneurship in QPVs?
There are two profiles of women entrepreneurs in QPVs: they are either women entrepreneurs who create their own jobs, in a very similar way to other neighborhoods - except that the business idea is directly linked to the needs of the neighborhood. For example, creating their own jobs through establishing a driving school. Business ideas are therefore very contextualized. In other words, it is a question of "resourceful" entrepreneurship based on informal practices. To raise funds, these women, often endowed with a bi-cultural background, immediately envisage a potentially international business with Franco-African objectives, and call on funds from the African Diaspora.
From a sociological point of view, these are women have built their lives independently - even in opposition to their families. They are respectful of the institution, but do not hesitate to question it. This is why women, during a coaching session, sometimes make decisions before the coach does. Women in QPVs have another key characteristic: in order to avoid the same glass ceiling as their counterparts in other neighborhoods, they deconstruct gender and adopt both organic growth strategies and alternative financing strategies. The challenge here, more than elsewhere, is to personalize their support.
What are the aims, implementation methods and funding sources of this action-research?
This international research program has a five-year plan. Maybe more. Our objective is to understand how to generate ambitious entrepreneurship and innovation in developed countries and in disadvantaged areas: in France, in Villeneuve, Pantin in the 93rd District and the northern neighborhoods of Marseille, but also in the United States (especially in Detroit), South Africa, Senegal, and Lebanon with Syrian refugees.
This action research aims to simultaneously understand and support women entrepreneurs. The initiative naturally found its anchor point in the Villeneuve district of Grenoble, with the creation of an incubator at GEM in September 2020. Entrepreneurial practices are observed and supported through the implementation of experimental measures focused on fundraising and job creation, etc. The actions of the Women & Economic Renewal Chair and the partner incubator "GEM Les Premières AURA" are financially supported by the Isère Prefecture, the Grenoble Metropolitan Area, and private funds such as those of the AG2R Group and other sponsors such as Oobee Co-working Spaces.
The Women & Economic Renewal Chair is co-hosted by Grenoble Ecole de Management and the GEM School for Business For Society Foundation. The entity includes 23 affiliated researchers, two and soon to be three in Grenoble, six in Paris, two in Lebanon, a researcher in Senegal, and a team in the United States.
What will be your next "areas" and research protocols?
At each site - in France and the United States, for example - we set up ethnographic studies through affiliated researchers, who gather and analyze entrepreneurial practices that are supported by incubators and partner organizations. But the researchers do not support the women entrepreneurs. The idea is not to be judge and jury.
In Grenoble, a dozen people, researchers and coaches, have been working in Villeneuve since September 2020, and have already produced more than a thousand pages of collected data. We started our research in Pantin last September and we are starting our program in Aubagne in early November. The tour starts in Villeneuve, and gradually, we are expanding. There is already a strong connection between the different areas.
We presented our initial results to the OECD in July 2021, and several of our research publications are in the pipeline. Our program is expected to subsequently expand to the outskirts of major European cities.
Ultimately, the aim of this action research is to generate a different image of the women of these neighborhoods, by encouraging women entrepreneurs. They have a rightful place and can contribute to the economic development of the city.