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Publication date: 29 June 2010

Maggie O'Carroll and Helen Millne

The gender gap in enterprise has been part of an ongoing debate on economic development for over 20 years. In an attempt to tackle this deficit Train 2000, the UK's…



The gender gap in enterprise has been part of an ongoing debate on economic development for over 20 years. In an attempt to tackle this deficit Train 2000, the UK's largest dedicated women's enterprise support organisation supported by its partners Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Vision, and an international panel of leading experts are developing the Women's International Centre for Economic Development (WICED). WICED will support the development of the female enterprise research base, the design and provision of female targeted business start‐up and development programmes and business incubation. The purpose of this paper is to describe the work of WICED.


Rigorous research was conducted in order to identify market need and opportunity for WICED in meeting the needs of would be and established women entrepreneurs. Primary and secondary sources of data have been collected utilising a combination of desk, semi‐structured interviews, focus groups and questionnaires gathering both qualitative and quantitative information to build a comprehensive picture. The research framework included; independent research review of women's enterprise; women entrepreneurs service user evaluation; study visits – UK, EU and the USA; literature review on legislation, policy, practice and academic research; academic and practitioner expert panel.


The research findings demonstrate that there is potential to transform the rates of self‐employment, business ownership and economic participation among women in Liverpool, Merseyside and the UK through the adoption of fit for purpose policies and initiatives to address existing challenges. The research data critically acknowledges that success in terms of increased levels and productivity of female entrepreneurship will not be achieved by “more of the same” in the way of encouragement, endorsement, development or support of the agenda and points to the US approach in developing new ways of harnessing this untapped economic opportunity.

Research limitations/implications

The research process highlighted that despite women being one the fastest growing populations of entrepreneurs they remain vastly understudied and that there was a clear lack of cumulative knowledge to adequately build explanatory theories. This lack of a comprehensive picture within the existing body of research limits WICED's understanding of the support needs of female entrepreneurs. However, it also provides WICED with an opportunity to act and conduit between researchers, female entrepreneurs and business support advice, training and incubation practitioners to begin to address the research deficit.

Practical implications

The evidence base indicates that both the design and implementation of business support services need to take account of gender. It is acknowledged that policy initiatives that do not recognise that specific requirements of aspiring and developing female entrepreneurs will have limited impact on the level of start‐up business or their growth trajectories. The WICED model reflects a transformation approach where a gender aware framework is proposed to support more nuanced research in the field, business support and business incubation.


The proposed WICED framework represents a departure from traditional transactional offerings as it will provide demand‐led gendered entrepreneurial services as opposed to policy and service provider supply based models.


International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, vol. 2 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1756-6266


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