The Good, the Bad, and the Path Forward: What we’re learning about accelerating women-led ventures and what we wish we knew

As accelerators, investors, donors, researchers, and more search for the best ways to support women entrepreneurs globally, ANDE continues to gather more evidence and derive insights on this subject. Our most recent knowledge brief reviews four research studies in Latin America and Africa that ANDE selected to identify key pain points for women entrepreneurs throughout the acceleration process: pipeline, application, target setting, and mentorship. These projects received generous support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

The good and bad news for each of these points is highlighted below. A knowledge brief with figures and deeper insights is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.


The good news is that women are increasingly participating in historically male-dominated sectors, such as tech, agriculture, and manufacturing. Entrepreneurship to the Point’s study on women’s entrepreneurship in South Africa sheds light on what motivates women to join male-dominated industries, such as a passion for the work and seeing a clear market opportunity. The most critical finding, highlighted in the same report, is that the majority of women entrepreneurs in male-dominated sectors had early exposure to entrepreneurship.

The bad news is that while the desire to work in these sectors exists, structural barriers continue to limit women’s ability to join and excel. While it is encouraging to see greater participation in these sectors, women are often doing so in second-tier positions. As described in the study by a team of Latin American academics In search of what is behind the gender finance gap: A case study of four Latin American countries, structural and societal barriers continue to limit women’s ability to join and excel in these sectors, and much of the challenges are due to a self-perpetuating cycle. In sectors where very few women serve as mentors, investors, and successful founders, gender bias is more prevalent, thus deterring more women from entering the field.


The good news is that, on average, women-led and mixed-gender founding teams experience higher rates of acceptance into accelerator programs than all-male teams. Furthermore, findings from a study titled Grammar of Inclusion: Language of Accelerators and Women Entrepreneurship use experimental evidence to show that accelerator program marketing does not exhibit gender bias, at least not in direct language used in program advertisements.

The bad news is that women-led teams are less likely to apply to accelerator programs than all-men teams. It is unclear what is deterring women from applying at the same rate as men. It could be due to the time commitment required to participate in an accelerator program conflicting with caretaking and business-running responsibilities. More needs to be understood about the structural barriers to participation for women, and in what ways accelerators were designed for the needs, schedules, and preferences of men rather than women.

Target setting

The good news is that accelerator programs are increasingly aware of the gender barriers associated with raising capital, and many are actively trying to address the gap through their programming. Many programs, such as those supported by ANDE’s Advancing Women’s Empowerment Fund, are testing new approaches to improve women’s investment readiness and close the gender finance gap.

The bad news is that women set lower fundraising targets and profit projections than men. Research shows that target setting is a key signal to potential investors when seeking investment, so the gender disparity revealed in the study Do Ventures Led by Women Set Different Target Margins? Evidence from Emerging Markets is particularly alarming for those programs keen to address the gender finance gap. More research is required to understand why women founders are setting lower targets and profit projections, though it is clear that there is greater nuance around this issue than what was previously understood. At first glance, it may appear that women are less confident. However, this may instead reflect that women estimate their market potential more realistically than men or that structural barriers have deterred them from seeking outside influence in their ownership structure. There is a significant need for a deeper understanding of these nuances in order to design effective interventions to close the gender finance gap.


The good news is that women benefit from male and female mentors, especially in male-dominated fields.  Research shows that women entrepreneurs benefit most from having both male and female mentors, as each offers very different support. GALI data finds that accelerators with at least 40% female representation among mentors have led to significantly higher application rates from women-led ventures. Having women represented in the field helps inspire and boost confidence and provides critical insight into challenges specific to a woman in the sector. On the other hand, male mentors working with women entrepreneurs can create access to previously gate-kept information, offer a larger network, and facilitate key introductions. Thus, having mentorship from both genders opens more doors to venture success.

The bad news is that many fields are still scarce in terms of female representation and, in turn, female mentors. Knowing that women entrepreneurs need mentors of both genders is only half of the battle. Mending the situation requires increasing the number of women mentors in male-dominated sectors, which might require generational shifts. In the meantime, we need to put more effort into connecting available women mentors with women entrepreneurs.


We learned that the number of women participating in entrepreneurship has been on the rise, even in male-dominated sectors, and that accelerators and incubators show pro-women bias in marketing and selecting participants for their programs. However, the concerted efforts to support women entrepreneurs do not lead to closing the financing gap. Lasting, meaningful change will require a multi-pronged, long-term approach that addresses the structure of entrepreneurial ecosystems. We need to increase the number of women in decision-making positions, identify the specific reasons women seek and secure financing at lower rates, and design evidence-backed interventions to systematically alleviate these barriers. Accelerators play a key role, but the full range of stakeholders must engage to achieve meaningful progress.