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Help at hand for entrepreneurs
Richard Watt
update on Saturday, April 17, 2010

Over the next four years, the Saïd Business School at Oxford University will be training more than 500 women entrepreneurs on the mainland, to help them develop their business skills and realise their business plans.

The programme started last year, with the intake of the first 100 women, and aims to teach at least 100 women a year, for the next four years, the basic skills of entrepreneurship. Said Business School has teamed up with the Global Entrepreneurship Research Centre at the School of Management at Zhejiang University to deliver the programme, which is offered free to budding women entrepreneurs in Zhejiang province.

"The selection process to choose the students was both very rigorous and very moving," says Elizabeth Paris, who is leading the project at Saïd Business School. "Our objective is to reach out to women who would not otherwise have access to any other support in starting up their business. These are not people who can embark on an MBA or who have access to other forms of business education."

Many of the first group of women on the programme had no household income to buy themselves training of any kind, and had either started a small enterprise or who had plans to do so. About 1,000 applications were received for the first 100 places.

Fees for the programme are provided by Goldman Sachs as part of their 10,000 women initiative aimed at empowering women around the developing world with the skills to succeed in business.

"Because we are working with women entrepreneurs we decided to run a programme of five modules, each of which will last four days, rather than running one long programme which would be tough for them to fit in to their lives as mothers and family members," Paris says. "It also makes sense academically. We have structured the programme so that the women gradually learn the skills that are needed for them to become successful entrepreneurs, including putting together their own business plan."

The modules include lectures, workshops, and company visits, and are delivered by visiting Oxford professors and professors from the Zhejiang school. By the time they graduate, the women will be able have solid business plans and the ability to seek funding for their businesses.

At the end of the programme the women don't drop off the radars of the two business schools - help and support is continuously offered to help them grow and maintain their businesses.

"[Business schools] have a responsibility not just to educate people in how to do business but also to influence the way business is conducted going forward," Paris explains. "This includes looking at how women are involved in business." She takes the Chinese saying, "women hold up half the sky", and explains that there is some excellent research around the fact that if business management training is provided to women, the benefits from it and their profits flow back into education for their children - and they are likely to take on more employees.

"In China there is a culture of successful entrepreneurism, and entrepreneurism can fit in very well with women. For us, the programme is about putting into practice our beliefs in the importance of the development of women in business and of entrepreneurism in the developing world."

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