Business Planet heads to Italy to look at an online community that’s inspiring women to start, run and grow successful businesses.
Bonfanti Brothers have been making beautiful buttons for more than 70 years. Here quality really does matter. The company’s products can be found in retail outlets, such as haberdasheries and specialist craft and wool shops, all over the world.
Founded by their grandfather, Sister’s Serena and Chiara Bonfanti help run the small business of around 40 people, with their father and uncle.
Eventually they will take charge of the day-to-day running of the company but they're already making their mark, modernising the business, especially with regard to digitalisation.
"We are doing our best to provide our customers always with bespoke solutions," explains Serena, while Chiara says: "[We're] also digitalising our communication with new channels in order to reach, support our customers, agents and distributors."
To expand their network, the sisters joined a local business association for female entrepreneurs in Turin called APID. It put them in touch with WEgate, an online hub dedicated to helping women in business.
"WEgate is an online gateway, that as an entrepreneur gave me the chance to enrich my personal skills, attending mentoring programme webinar training courses. But I’m also a person involved in a local business association and thanks to this we can share ideas, we can do networking activities, access to EU funds and share best practices," Serena says.
Gender funding gap
Building a business, whatever your gender, can be tough. But research does show women do face some specific hurdles, most notably access to finance.
For instance, it’s estimated while women create around one third of all businesses in Europe, female founders, in sector’s such as tech, only get about 2% of all venture capital.
More broadly, there is growing concern the pandemic has hit women-owned firms especially hard, given that these companies tend to be in sectors disproportionately affected by lockdowns.
In a bid to address some of these challenges, the WEgate network offers a range of services to help women in business.
"WEgate is a platform. It’s a place of trust where women entrepreneurs can find information and support on how to start and grow their businesses, for instance how to get finance and funding but also it’s a place to get inspiration and to celebrate female entrepreneurship," WEgate's Project Manager Eva Merloni says.
She adds, "entrepreneurship has no gender. Many entrepreneurial needs are exactly the same for men and women. However, women face specific challenges, such as access to finance and finding a good work life balance, that allows them to start and run a company."
Business Planet spoke to Anne Ravanona about the challenges facing female entrepreneurs.
_“WEgate is a go to platform created by the European Commission in partnership with other organisations on the ground serving women entrepreneurs. And the objective of the platform is to be the kind of go-to space if you're a woman entrepreneur in Europe, and you want to learn about all the different resources available to you in your country and internationally when you're building your business, funding your business, and to kind of connect with other women entrepreneurs. So it's a go to space. We are many organisations who are part of it, who are serving and supporting female founders. And in Europe, we absolutely do need to bring all that together. There's so many resources out there. So you need to have a one-stop-shop to know where to look. So WEgate is a great tool for that.”