Business School


19 March 2010

While women are making their mark in everyday Australian business, they are still under-represented in "high-potential" businesses, an entrepreneurial study undertaken at Queensland University of Technology has found.

The latest results from the Comprehensive Australian Study of Entrepreneurial Emergence (CAUSEE), which is tracking the development of 1100 new and young firms in Australia, found that almost half of all small-scale business start-ups were founded by women, researcher Associate Professor Paul Steffens, from the QUT Faculty of Business, said.

"Historically, female participation in business founding has been a lot lower than it is today, and it's clear that a lot of ground has been made up in recent years," Professor Steffens said.

"For regular start-up businesses, our results are encouraging with almost equal participation rates for women: 44 and 48 per cent for young and nascent firms respectively.

"However, the rate is strikingly lower at a disappointing 20 per cent participation for 'high-potential' start-ups."

Professor Steffens said the four-year study differentiated between high-potential firms and regular businesses, which tended to start small and remain small, whether intentionally or not.

The study found that high-potential firms were more difficult to set up and tended to be established by teams of tertiary-educated people with significant business and management experience.

He said the study found that there were significant differences which set high-potential business start-ups apart, including the presence of role models.

"The most striking difference between high-potential firms and normal firms is the influence of role models, particularly parents who have run their own businesses," he said.

"Around two-thirds of high-potential start-up firms were founded by people whose parents ran their own businesses, while just over half of non high-potential businesses founders' also had business-owner parents.

"Considering the importance of role models, the fact we are not seeing as many women in high-potential firms means there is a small number of female role models in business."

Professor Steffens said the latest CAUSEE results also uncovered a number of other interesting findings about high potential firms, including the revelation that despite regarding international markets as attractive, international sales were generally not a major source of income.

It was also found that when compared with a United States sister study, Australia was on par with, or even better than, the world's acknowledged leader of commercialisation.

"Previous studies suggested that Australian start-ups are less sophisticated than the US, but our study clearly shows the reverse," he said.

"Some indicators, like research and development and use of technology, show we are in fact markedly ahead of the US."

CAUSEE is funded by $718,000 in Australian Research Council grants and sponsored by BDO Kendalls and the National Australia Bank.

Full report available at:

Media contact: Rachael Wilson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1150 or
**High res image of Professor Paul Steffens for media use

Professor Paul Steffens


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