Helping or hurting future founders? How the impact of the gender gap on start-ups is influenced through entrepreneurship education at post-secondary institutions



There are approximately 3.5 million entrepreneurs in Canada (startupcan.ca) and hundreds of incubators and accelerators that provide funding and support for start-ups. As these ventures continue to expand and diversify, so do their founders. In particular, female founders are becoming the fastest-growing community of start-ups (Brush, Bruin, & Welter, 2009).

Although women-owned businesses (WOBs) are rapidly expanding, their ability to secure start-up funding continues to be influenced through biased pitch questions and conservative venture evaluations. Through WOBs failing to signal high growth potential, “...female-led ventures are 63 percentage points less likely than male-led ventures to obtain external funding (e.g. venture capital)” (Guzman & Kacperczyk, 2019, p.1666). This gender gap is not only experienced by WOBs but also by female Venture Capitalists or Angel Investors. Only 15.2% of VC partners, 11.8% of Managing Partners and 10.3% of venture partners in Canada are women (“Canadian Women in Venture Report 2019”, 2019).

In addition, of the 85% of capital invested in 2018, $4.6 billion dollars was invested in ventures with no female partners (“Canadian Women in Venture Report 2019”, 2019, p.10).

As more WOBs enter the start-up space, it is important for founders and funders alike to acknowledge the influence of the gender gap in start-up funding. Specifically, it is crucial for individuals in the entrepreneurial space to gain insight into how this gender gap can influence start-ups as early as in post-secondary education. As universities and colleges expand their entrepreneurial programs and course offerings, they must analyze the feedback of their students and innovate accordingly.


In recent years, various studies have emerged pointing to explanations for the existence of the gender gap and start-up funding, specifically through directly researching start-up founders and funders. However, there is minimal research that traces the establishment of the gender gap as early as in post-secondary education. This identified a key opportunity for research to help individuals working in the entrepreneurial space and educational institutions gain new insights into why this continues to exist and how they can minimize the experience and effects of the gap early on. Additionally, this study aims to help post-secondary schools improve the structure and delivery of their entrepreneurship offerings to address the concerns and desires of students.

This study explores how the impact of the gender gap on start-ups can be influenced through entrepreneurship studies at the post-secondary level. Specifically, the study analyzes students who are studying and/or have an interest in entrepreneurship to gauge their expectations, thoughts and feelings and identify common themes and differences in responses among genders.


Questions that were referenced throughout the study included:

  • Does the gender gap influence entrepreneurship as early as in post-secondary school?
  • What are the common themes among expectations, thoughts and feelings on entrepreneurship and the start-up space?
  • Are there similarities or differences among responses from male versus female students?


The data collection method used was grounded theory. The flexibility of this research method advanced the study while adapting the hypothesis as themes emerged from qualitative coding. At the end of this process, a theory was produced.

In terms of the data collection process, I administered a survey and interviews.

Prior to the creation of the survey, I initially hypothesized that the gender gap is the largest factor that would discourage motivation for an individual (specifically females) to pursue a career in entrepreneurship.


A survey was administered among Ryerson undergraduate classes, specifically those with a focus in Entrepreneurship, and circulated among students online. The respondents were provided with a variety of likert scale questions and some multiple choice (single answer) questions to gauge their awareness surrounding the research problem an their feelings and opinion in relation to it. There were approximately 72 respondents with the majority in year four or beyond (55.6%) and year three (27.8%). Approximately 70.8% of the participants are female and 29.2% are male. Additionally, the survey helped to recruit participants for interviews.


One male and one female undergraduate student were recruited to complete an interview. The male student is an Entrepreneurship major in his third year at Ryerson, with an interest in entrepreneurship. The female student is a Creative Industries major in her fourth year at Ryerson, with an interest in entrepreneurship. The interviewees were asked a variety of open-ended questions. After each interview was completed, their responses were coded through NVIVO as nodes and sentiments to identify common themes.



A variety of interesting and important findings emerged from the survey responses.

Overall Survey Findings

  • Although 68.1% of respondents agreed that the gender gap is prevalent and 58.4% agreed that their gender could impact them from receiving equal opportunities, the majority of respondents pointed to a lack of knowledge and experience, lack of access to resources and connections and fear of failure and risks associated with start-ups to hinder their motivation to pursue a career in entrepreneurship.
  • Despite these, 73.6% of respondents indicated they were likely - very likely to create a start-up at some point in their life. This is interesting as it indicates that students are aware and open in sharing their perceived fear associated with creating a start-up but are still motivated to pursue a career in entrepreneurship.
  • Thus, my original hypothesis was proven null.
Revised hypothesis: Students acknowledge the existence of a gender gap and how it may impact them from receiving equal opportunities. However, the associated risks and their lack of knowledge/experience, resources/connections and fear of failure ultimately hinders their confidence in creating a start-up.


Interview One (Male Interviewee)

  • Main, emergent theme: educational experience


Emergent themes and the amount of corresponding nodes coded on NVIVO

Educational experience

  • Revealed how the program expands on important concepts such as design thinking and evaluating customers and target markets
  • Indicated that most of the courses are unproductive and since students focus so much of their time in lectures or on homework, they do not have enough time to build a start-up
  • Suggests that professors with entrepreneurial experience are a huge asset to the program as you can trust their expertise and wishes that the program was exposed to start-up resources earlier on

Professional Experience

  • Indicated a wide variety of professional experience and found these experiences to be beneficial in building his knowledge regarding the entrepreneurial space


  • Indicated that having a mentor was beneficial and that his friends often connected with professionals and gained valuable mentoring opportunities
  • Interviewee made use of Ryerson resources such as Start-Up Certified, DMZ, Sandbox and Start-Up school
  • Aware of the role of Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors however, he wishes his program expanded on these connections and resources further

Gender Gap

  • Respondent indicated that both his program and the club he was involved with were female-dominated
  • When elaborating on professional experience, he noted that pitch competitions he attended were predominantly male attendees and always had an all-male, panel of judges. The only form of diversity involved in the pitch competitions was ethnicity.

Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment analysis auto-coded on NVIVO
  • Overall, the sentiment of the interview transcript was auto-coded to be mainly neutral and mixed. However, my nodes indicated the sentiment to be mostly positive

Interview Two (Female Interviewee)

  • Main, emergent theme: educational experience


Emergent themes and the amount of corresponding nodes coded on NVIVO

Educational experience

  • Indicated that her entrepreneurship-focused class was disorganized and uninspiring and felt as though it was just for fun and nothing feasible could emerge from the course
  • Mentioned how another course offered a productive environment yet she was still hesitant to share her ideas in class

Gender Gap

  • Indicated that her program was predominantly female yet in her program ‘s entrepreneurship class, it was the men who were taking over 50% of the conversation
  • Interestingly enough, she found that the female professor did not attempt to balance the discussion and she noted how if men receive more support and experience throughout university, they will likely have more confidence to pursue a start-up after graduation
  • Respondent noted how she wants to have children in 5-10 years and how this is a major factor in doubting her ability to pursue a career in entrepreneurship
  • Suggested that having more examples of female entrepreneurs who have fought against the gender gap motivates her to reconsider creating a start-up


  • Respondent fears that since her ideas do not seem big enough that they will not be successful
  • Her lack of access to resources and connections in Toronto hinders her ability to pursue any of her start-up ideas

Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment analysis auto-coded on NVIVO
  • Overall, the sentiment of the interview transcript was auto-coded to be mainly neutral and mixed. However, my nodes indicated the sentiment to be mostly negative


When comparing the responses from both the male and female interviewees, it was evident that educational experience largely influenced the respondent’s knowledge and motivation to pursue a career in entrepreneurship. However, educational experience had a distinct, negative sentiment for both respondents. Both interviewees acknowledged the existence of the gender gap within entrepreneurship. The male respondent lightly touched on this area, acknowledging the divide within pitch competitions while the female interviewee frequently referenced her responses back to the gender gap. Thus, there was a clear divide in the sentiment of the interviews according to gender. The interview with the male respondent was much more positive and optimistic versus the interview with the female respondent was negative and doubtful.


Given the responses and analysis of the surveys and interviews, the revised hypothesis is proven true.

Therefore, the proposed theory is that undergraduate students acknowledge the existence and implications of a gender gap, however, it is ultimately their educational and professional experience as well as their access to connections and resources as a student that solidify a foundation for start-up success and confidence after graduation.

Furthermore, post-secondary schools should reconsider their entrepreneurial classes and programs to offer hands-on learning and mentorship opportunities in the classroom. Instead of focusing strictly on theory, entrepreneurship classes should work directly with start-up incubators and funders to teach students concrete skills and offer them the opportunity to work alongside a start-up or learn how to fund their own. Specifically, financial literacy should be emphasized to help students build confidence in determining the value of a venture and assessing opportunities to raise funding. Professional experience should be a key element of each class to encourage participation and experience in the real world and help students build a resume beyond academia. Lastly, educational institutions need to acknowledge the gender gap when organizing the delivery and structure of entrepreneur courses. They must work to ensure that there is representation in the delivery of the courses as well as the participation and support of students and foster a judgement-free zone for students to share ideas.

To continue to address the gender gap and start-ups, educational institutions must leverage their access to resources and connections to equally prepare students of all genders for success after graduation. They must listen to the fears that students associate with entrepreneurship and find ways to address those concerns. When students have experience and feel knowledgeable in the entrepreneurship space, they become confident and competitive members of the workforce. Although progress is being made to lessen the gender gap, post-secondary schools must continue to support and acknowledge that women will continue to experience the implications of this gap and help them to build the confidence to challenge this.

Researcher Bio

Kristin Kelly is an Account Coordinator at Conversation Agency, a full-service agency that specializes in Public Relations, Sponsorship, Marketing, Event Management and Social Media. In addition to her role at Conversation Agency, Kristin is a full-time, Honours in Professional Communication, Minor in Marketing student at Ryerson University. After concentrating most of her studies on Marketing and Strategic Communications, Kristin understands the importance of storytelling and crafting ongoing, valuable relationships between both clients and sponsors. Kristin thrives working in a fast-paced environment and through her immaculate time management skills, is well-versed in Sponsorship, Public Relations, Marketing, Event Coordination and Social Media.

Before this role, Kristin was heavily involved in the Ryerson community. She acted as the Vice President of Events for the Professional Communication Course Union for two terms, was a General Associate (Marketing and Corporate Relations) on the Ted Rogers Students Society, a PR specialist for the Ted Rogers Management Conference, and was both a rider and Social Media Manager on the Ryerson Equestrian team. Kristin has been a Dean’s List recipient for the past two years, maintaining a GPA over 3.75.

Beyond Ryerson, Kristin has volunteered at the Children’s Book Bank as a Fund Development and Prospect Researcher, a Social Media Manager for ROAR Festival, and a Photographer and Resource Centre Volunteer at KidsAbility. Kristin has also been a Brand Ambassador for Kiju Organic and SDIMKTG and has freelanced with TellPeople for Social Media and Event Strategy. In March 2018, Kristin worked as a PR and Sponsorship Intern at Conversation Agency and continues to work part-time as an Account Coordinator while finishing her degree.

Kristin is set to graduate from Ryerson University in Spring 2020 and is eager to explore a career in Marketing, Sponsorship, or Investor Relations. Her goal is to complete a post-graduate degree in Media Ventures as well as complete her MBA. In her free time, Kristin can be found volunteering and enjoys cycling and spending time with friends and family.

Connect with me!


  • Brush, C. G., de Bruin, A., & Welter, F. (2009). A gender-aware framework for women's entrepreneurship. International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, 1(1), 8-24. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1108/17566260910942318
  • Canadian Women in Venture Report 2019. (2019). Retrieved from https://highlinebeta.docsend.com/view/bgats5d
  • Guzman, J., & Kacperczyk, A. (. (2019). Gender gap in entrepreneurship. Research Policy, 48(7), 1666-1680. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2019.03.012
  • https://www.startupcan.ca/
Created By
Kristin Kelly


Created with an image by Mario Gogh - "untitled image"