Ethiopia: The Female Innovator Support Group & First Female Business Idea Competition at Hawassa University

1. Introduction – How it starts and what we have achieved so fare
2. Background – What need to be known to understand the low female participation?
3. The FIS Concept, the FIS Group and the FIS Activities & Capacities
4. The First Female Business Idea Competition – What we did and how it continues?
5. First Internal Spillover Effects and the Way Forward


1. Introduction – How it started and what we have achieved already
The focus of our work at Hawassa University is Entrepreneurship and University Industry Linkage. Yet, to
enable woman participation in this kind of activities is an important part of our work as well.
In research it is well known that African woman micro entrepreneurs do much better than men. And in
general there are a lot of opportunities for supporting women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia such as special
networks, initiatives and funds. Yet, the attempts to encourage female students to go for their own
startup still lack on success all over Ethiopia.
Before the engagement of GIZ at Hawassa University there has been only one College of Hawassa
University which was running business idea competitions and the participation rate of female students
was zero. To encounter this we established a community of practice, the “Female Innovator Support
Group” (FIS), with the goal to encourage a higher number of female students to go for entrepreneurship.
We developed a concept how to strengthen female student participation and their success in the field of
Entrepreneurship and have started to bring it into action with a special kickoff event and business idea
competition for females as a first step.
We established the group in the beginning of 2017 and can already say that we have succeeded even
there is still a lot to do. Within our first female business idea competition we achieved more than 200
applications from female students from which we choose 80 for preparation trainings out of which we
have built 17 business teams and finally incubated 5 female business teams in the incubators of Hawassa
University. Five Businesses which outreach the quality of other incubated business from other business
Furthermore, the approach itself received a high attention and recognition from all sides inside and
outside the University. Other Ethiopian Universities such as Mekelle and Adama have already shown
interest in adapting the approach and the University of Bahir Dar is already partnering with us and
started the implementation of their own FIS Group. This is the result of 11 months from the time the
idea was born till now and we are looking confidently to the future development of this project.

2. Background – What need to be known to understand the low female student participation?
There could be multiple reasons why the women involvement is low. Two of the man reasons in the case
of Ethiopia could be:
Low proportion of female students in general
In case of university students the main obvious is that also their proportion compared to male students is
lower. And obviously it is much easier to find high motivated and good capable persons out of 100 than
out of 10. Furthermore the low proportion of women has an effect on the opportunity cost of females to
become entrepreneurs. Not only entrepreneurial programs, nearly all programs encourage the
involvement of women and because their number is usually low, the ones who are capable and want to
go for a career face lower risk with such as with becoming entrepreneurs.

Traditional cultural attitudes
Ethiopia is a very traditional country. The role of a woman is in families still more the one of a wife and
mother than of an independent and engaged person in the business world. Growing up with this attitude
has an effect on the family influence for females entrepreneurs. A further influence could be a general
higher pressure from their surroundings in terms of doubting their skills which can lead to higher
entrepreneurial fears of failure and fears of ridicule.
In summary we suppose that many of the female students have a higher level of typical entrepreneurial
• Opportunity Costs
• Family Influence
• Risk Aversion
• Fear of Failure
• Ridicule.

3. The FIS Concept, the FIS Group and the FIS Activities & Capacities
The FIS Concept
The FIS concept targets to reduce the influence of obstacles and to strengthen motivational factors for
becoming an entrepreneur for female students. The major tool for this is to stimulate an encouraging
and supportive environment and community in which female students feel safe, can support each other
and like to be a part of. A further important tool is to demonstrate that success is possible and that
failing doesn’t hurt as much as usually supposed and that they are not alone if that happens.
These entails:
– To develop an internal community which can create awareness and activate their peers
– To conduct special occasions only for females where they are among themselves
– To offer extra capacities and linkages only for females to provide further support and safe space.
The Internal FIS Community – The FIS Group
The Group is established to support the university incubation centers to encourage female students to
participate in entrepreneurial activities and to become female entrepreneurs. The team consists of
voluntary team members of female university students and staffs. The team started with 5 staff
members and 2 student members and is currently expanding to include over time at least one female
staff and student from each major department from the different colleges of the University.
This community is mainly engaged in promoting entrepreneurship events to their peers but also in
charge for developing the activities of the group in a self-organizational team approach and is supported
by that with special trainings and coordination support by the University Industry Linkage Directorate
and GIZ.

Activities and Capacities – Special Occasions and Extra Capacities
Special Occasions entail
– Special entrepreneur and business development trainings as preparation for business idea
competitions for female students
– Female Business Idea Competitions with tailored approaches where female students can
compete among themselves
– Special events such as Role Model Events and Failure Experience Sharing Events in which female
students can learn from the experience from successful and failed female entrepreneurs.
Extra Capacities entail
– A female entrepreneur club in which ongoing female student entrepreneurs and established
female entrepreneurs can meet regularly to exchange experience and support each other with
creativity, advise, comfort and energy
– Extra incubation space for female businesses which doesn’t fit to the two existing incubators,
because these incubators are only open for technology driven or agricultural driven businesses
– Facilitation support for selected female projects in terms of mentoring, market and finance
linkage from the FIS Group

4. The First Female Business Idea Competition – What we did and how it continues?
The Female Role Model Event as Kickoff
We organized a female entrepreneur role model event as kickoff for the first female business idea
competition as first activity of the FIS Group. For that we invited 3 successful entrepreneurs to give
motivational speeches and used the event to introduce the FIS Group to the University and the
community. In total we had 400 participants including roughly 35 female entrepreneurs from Hawassa.
The marketing targeted the female entrepreneur role model event and the competition at the same
time. As tools we used the usual way of flyers and posters but could benefit strongly from the FIS Group
members who were responsible for the flyer distribution and created a strong mouth-to-mouth
recommendation. The group members have been trained before with the entrepreneurship model which
we use for the competitions and because of that have been enthusiastic and competent promoters.
The event was a great success although half of the participants had to stand in the floor and listen to the
speakers because of an unexpected participation which exceeded the allocated room capacity.
The Competition Approach
Students have to apply with a motivation letter to get selected for a preparation training. The
preparation training takes one week and is conducted either consecutive in 5.5 days or split to two
weekend classes. Within the trainings the participants have to develop their business ideas, form
business teams, conduct customer surveys and conduct a final presentation to be selected for the finals.
Each team which gets selected for the finals will receive technical and business mentoring support and
financial prototype-building support of up to 4,000 Birr for materials (approx. 120€). The winning team at
the finals will receive a special award in form of tailor made designer clothes for each team member

from a famous fashion designer, who was one of the female entrepreneur role models at the kickoff
event. Beside that the winning team gets an incubation working space and further mentoring support to
start her business, but this benefit is also available for all other finalists who performed well enough.
The Competition in practice
After the event we run two application rounds and received in total 200 applications. In total we selected
80 participants for the trainings and conducted two preparation trainings out of which we build 17
business teams and selected 5 teams for the finals.
The 5 final team businesses are:
– A mechanical street cleaning machine which can replace unhealthy jobs of female street cleaners
and can be used also for cleaning industry sheds
– A simple smartphone projector which run without electricity and can be used during the night as
TV substitute. The target is to start this first and to develop in a further step a smartphone
projector which also works during day and can be used for educational purposes as well.
– A female for female tutor agency which connects unprivileged university female students to
female school student tutor classes and facilitates tutors training, the marketing and class set-up
– A chicken processor which separates chicken into parts and package them to enable a better
chicken meat access compared to the common method in Ethiopia of buying a whole chicken
and slaughtering it by the customers themselves
– A local manufactured condominium washing machine with separate water tank which is
affordable for middle income households and can be used without extra water connection.
Currently, we are in the mentoring and prototype building process for the finals. The students have a lot
of challenges to overcome, yet, one already find an interested investor who already paid the money for
their prototype. The prototype costs exceeded the usual University financing budget and with the
investors funding it was even faster possible to start the building process compared to the ones financed
by the University. We expect this prototype will be finished within the next two weeks.

5. First Internal Spillover Effects and the Way Forward
Since the FIS competition the application rate also increased by other business idea competitions from
previously 0 to 10-25%. Yet, in the usual competitions we still face challenges when female students
have to present their ideas in front of the group. Many of them will skip the training before their
presentation slot, a behavior which we didn’t face in the female business idea competition. This indicates
that the safe atmosphere in which female students are among themselves is very important and that we
need to continue with the special female competitions. But our fully trained students from the female
competition don’t fear any competitions anymore and apply meanwhile at the same time by other
international competitions such as dot.Ethiopia with their projects.
We are now looking forward to our final event from the first female business idea competition and its
results. We will use the final at the same time as kickoff for the start of our Female Entrepreneur Club
and as chance to expand our activities to its full scale. We are curious to see how the FIS project will
further develop but after such a good start we are confident that we will keep doing even more great.


Team Members
Phillip Travers, GIZ Ethiopia, Sustainable Training and Education Programme (STEP), Development
Advisor at Hawassa University – Directorate for Univeristy Industry Linkage & Technology Transfer
Dr. Mulugeta Dadi, Hawassa University/ GIZ Returning Expert, Director University Industry Linkage &
Technology Transfer
Sr. Tigist Kebede, Hawassa University, Director Gender & HIV Affairs
Addisalem Mekonnen, Hawassa University, University Industry Linkage Officer at Institute of Technology
Naboni Kelbesa, Hawassa University, Law Student and Student Girls Club President