Visa Celebrates International Women’s Day With A Global Challenge For Female Entrepreneurs

On Friday (March 8), the world will recognize International Women’s Day — celebrated globally since 1975, when it was adopted as a holiday by the United Nations. In the 44 years since, much has changed for women all over the world.

More women have finished college and started businesses, as well as work outside the home and fill management or supervisory blue-collar positions, than at any previous point in U.S. history.

Thirty-eight percent of all U.S. businesses are currently run by women. Statistically speaking, those businesses do very well. They grow faster, reach profitability sooner and generate more revenue per dollar invested than those of their male counterparts, according to a study of female-founded firms. The study reported that for every dollar of capital raised, women-run startups generated 78 cents in revenue, compared to 31 cents for men-run startups.

The problem is that female-founded firms still lack in venture capital funding. According to a study by Babson College, all-male leadership teams receive 80 percent of the venture funding in the U.S. Teams with at least one female co-founder raise 18 percent, and all-female teams bring in about 2 percent.

Female-founded firms also tend to receive less than their male-led counterparts. According to Fortune, the average deal size for women-led businesses in 2017 was roughly $5 million, while male-led firms averaged around $12 million. Seventy-three percent of female founders reported “great difficulty” in securing enough capital to get their businesses off the ground.

Many may debate why this is true, but there is no debate that this gap needs closing, Visa Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Lynne Biggar told Karen Webster — and it’s a gap that is decidedly bad for business.

That’s why Visa is announcing a first-of-its-kind push today (March 6) to launch a Women’s Global Edition of its five-year-old Visa Everywhere Initiative. This program will recruit female entrepreneurs from around the world, and turn them loose on the biggest payments and social challenges on earth.

Why Women Entrepreneurs Are Where Visa Everywhere Wants To Be

Since launching the Visa Everywhere Initiative in 2015, Biggar told Webster, the company has run 23 programs, declared 70 winners from 75 countries and worked with 4,000 startups that it’s helped to raise more than $2.5 billion in funding.

The new Women’s Global Edition taps into the energy and explosive growth of women’s entrepreneurship worldwide, giving female founders a way to gain visibility for the good works they are doing, and narrow the funding gap they face. To compete, firms must have at least one female co-founder. As the name implies, it’s global, and will include participants from five regions — including France, host to the competition’s grand prize ceremony, held during the opening week of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June of this year.

This will also be the first time the Visa Everywhere Initiative will incorporate social-good challenges into the competition.

 On Your Mark, Get Set … Get Funded

The first challenge, Biggar noted, is a typical FinTech challenge. Firms are asked to leverage their company’s capabilities to help “transform consumer, payments and/or commercial experiences locally, regionally or globally.” To participate, firms can be early stage, but must have a product in market or some Seed funding.

The social impact challenge seeks solutions that “drive social impact by supporting sustainable and equitable livelihoods, and strengthening local/regional economies.” Those need not be established startups per se, but they do need to be female-founded organizations with at least two workers and a project mission that speaks to the challenge.

Contestants will be judged regionally, and each region will pick one winner per challenge to compete at the finals in Paris. Winners will be awarded $100,000 in funds — plus various mentorship opportunities within Visa, as well as with Visa partner firms and the eight previous Visa Everywhere Initiative winners.

The Path Forward

The latest iteration of the Visa Everywhere Initiative, with a global focus on female entrepreneurship, is not a one-off, but is part of a parcel of work Visa has been doing as of late, Biggar noted.

In January, Visa announced the She’s Next Initiative, designed to support the advancement of women-owned small businesses around the world through shared research, experiences, mentorship opportunities and technologies. Last summer, Visa announced a focus on millennial women and their spending as part of its “Money is Changing” project.

The response is gratifying, so far, Biggar said, since the need seems so acute. It’s also an area where Visa feels strongly that it can do some good work.

“Men and women — we’re all in this together,” she told Webster. “It is our collective responsibility to create environments where men and women entrepreneurs can equally thrive.”

Biggar added that there needs to be a dialogue across all of us to change the statistics that are “pretty undeniable” in terms of the struggle female founders sometimes face. As Visa sees it, there needs to be a platform for giving those female entrepreneurs the capital and connections they need to reach their true potential.