Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Business Plan Contests: Where Are the Women?

Many groups are trying to increase female participation in competitions for promising ventures

Something bothered Jane Pak when she served as a judge for a regional competition of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) at the University of Southern California last summer: All the contestants were male. "Where are the girls?" she asked the two other female judges. "It was so obvious to us that this was a problem," says Pak, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. "No one else seemed to notice."

Women often go missing from the 100-plus entrepreneurial competitions held annually in the U.S., where winners take home prizes ranging from cash and trophies to contacts that can lead to opportunities. In the GSEA's 2010 contest, just 25 of the 145 competitors were women and the winners and runners-up were all male. Since 2007 only 13 percent of the event's 117 finalists have been female. The scant presence of women in such events "makes me want to put my head down and weep," says J. Janelle Shubert, director of the Center for Women's Leadership at Babson College.