Spinoff founders: Far from the ideal female quota


The recently published Gender Monitoring report by the ETH Zurich and a complementary analysis from the EPFL shed light on diversity at the universities. The percentage of female founders at the ETH Zurich has been more or less stagnant since the 1980s and has not outstripped the 10% mark. At EPFL, the average percentage of female Spinoff founders or co-founders is 15%, since 2006.



Both at the ETH Zurich and at the EPFL, the proportion of women founders is still very low as reported in the recently released Gender Monitoring report and in a study by Hervé Lebret from the EPFL. The ETH landscape and percentage of females According to the ETH Zurich Gender Monitoring analysis, the overall proportion of females at different career levels at ETH increased to 32% in 2018 following a long period of stagnation at 30%. The share of female doctoral students rose to 32.1%, scientific staff to 27.2% and postdoctoral students to 31%. The number of female professors has also grown to 14.9% and in the technical-administrative areas, females were represented by 43%. At the department level, the figures vary significantly; while some departments have a 50% female representation, others especially the department of Mechanics and process engineering (D-MAVT) has 11% females and the departments of Math (D-MATH), information technology and electro-technic (D-ITET) and Physics (D-PHY) are made up of only 10% of females. Female spinoff founders at ETH and EPFLThe ETH and EPFL act as breeding grounds for startups due to their contribution towards knowledge and technology transfer. In 2018 the Gender Monitoring analysis reports that 27 spinoff companies were founded from the ETH and 25 from the EPFL according to the EPFL statistics. Majority of the spinoffs are however established by males. At the ETH, the share of female (co) founders has been on average 7.95% since the 1980s and has barely surpassed 10% in the last ten years. The percentage is slightly higher at the EPFL where 8% of the spinoffs are founded by women and 15% of the spinoffs have a female co-founder. Moreover, although the percentages of female-(co)founded EPFL spinoffs had been varying (between 7% and 20%) the increase from 7% in 2017 to 32% in 2018 set a new record. Also in financial aspects, female quotas are low, nonetheless, there is no evidence of financial discrimination against female founders in the support programmes. The ETH analysis reports that the share of male-founded ventures in the supported projects is still higher than the share of female (co)founders. The ETH Pioneer Fellowship has awarded 17% (14 of 81 fellows) females since 2010 and in the ESA BIC Switzerland program, 12 of the 31 supported ETH spinoffs have female (co)founders. At the EPFL, spinoffs have the opportunity to obtain Innogrants to finance their business. According to the EPFL statistics from 2006 to 2018, 10% of all applicants were women and the ratio of the female funded by the Innogrant is 12%. To this day, 19% of females that applied for the funds have received the Innogrants. Reasons and solutions to increase the female quotaJustifying the low figures and identifying possible solutions to increase the figures, the authors of the ETH Zurich Gender Monitoring conducted interviews with spinoff teams and experts. Regarding the low figures, the study found women's perception of a spin-off as a challenge makes them less confident about establishing. Moreover, women shy away from business management issues and undermine their competence within these fields. To increase the percentage of the female founders, the study proposes measures to be taken into consideration. Given that majority of the spinoffs emerge from research teams, diversity should be in focus right from the research phase, female participation in entrepreneurship courses should be intensified, exchange with role models should be fostered and finally, technical universities worldwide should open discussions on the issue and jointly define measures to address them. (RAN / SK)