The FERE Research Chair (Women & Economic Renewal) and Les Prem1ères Rhônes-Alpes Auvergne (France’s leading incubator network) joined forces to launch “GEM - Les Prem1ères”, a mobile incubator for female entrepreneurship in Isère. The goal of the incubator is to foster female entrepreneurship and create jobs in rural areas.
We speak with Séverine Le Loarne, a professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management. In addition to being an expert on female entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, she helped launch the FERE Research Chair at GEM.
Why set up an incubator dedicated to female entrepreneurship in rural areas? What is unique about this initiative?
This is the first mobile incubator developed for women who wish to launch entrepreneurial projects in rural or mountainous regions. Most incubators are located in cities where they help women create projects that are also located in cities. Our challenge is to support rural areas. The goal is to support growth in rural areas through entrepreneurship and the jobs created by entrepreneurial projects.
We focused on female entrepreneurship for two reasons: First, women in rural areas are more involved in domestic tasks and it's a real challenge to find the time and space for an entrepreneurial project. It's an incredible chance to help them create a sustainable and ambitious business near their home. It's the opportunity to balance professional and personal objectives! Second, we're focusing on what we know best. For the past ten years, the FERE chair has carried out research on female entrepreneurship. So it's logical for us to support the population we know best!
Participants to the "GEM - Les Prem1ères" incubator are also contributing to a collective learning process. The incubator is hosted by a research chair that provides women with access to serious, knowledgeable support in order to create an innovative business and new jobs. The incubator is an opportunity to test the "real-life" impact of female entrepreneurship on the region and evaluate the efficiency of various teaching methods used to support entrepreneurs.
The incubator is designed to provide access to learning centers. What tools will be available to female entrepreneurs? How will you provide them with support?
We offer support using the tried-and-tested method of the Les Prem1ères network. By using a training space in Grenoble and at other locations around the region, the incubator provides participants with easier access to a series of six training courses. The first course, for example, provides training on critical thinking for entrepreneurship and how to interact with the network in order to avoid isolation when launching a project.
The South Isère area is notably different from other Les Prem1ères incubators in that it relies on various teaching methods based on the GEM Learning Model. I can share three concrete examples of this: (1) using serious games (cubification method) to reflect upon the project and expand the concept; (2) learning about female entrepreneurial habits thanks to various methods such as keeping a learning diary; (3) quick and concrete teaching of key business management concepts through the use of comic books. The incubator will be led by experts who volunteer their time as part of the school's skill-based volunteering initiative.
You mention the fact that current initiatives dedicated to promoting female entrepreneurship (e.g., awards to highlight female role models) have never been measured in terms of efficiency despite the fact they receive important funding. Why might this new approach be more efficient?
For the moment, thousands of euros (or even tens of thousands) are invested in initiatives that aim to highlight the experiences of "successful" women. It wouldn't be very correct for me to cite specific names, but you can simply look at all the various awards dedicated to female entrepreneurship and all of the conferences on female entrepreneurship.
Should we have initiatives that promote the success of women in the business world? Why not. But saying that it will provide other women with the confidence to launch a project is another matter. As a scientist, I make no judgement about these initiatives except for the fact that we simply don't know how these "role model" initiatives support a woman's decision to create an entrepreneurial project (and even less how they support women once they launch a project).