Project summary

FEMINA partners believe that increased female participation can make high-tech SMEs more competitive. This belief, based on academic studies and practical experience, must become part of mainstream policy.

The gender gap is still visible in high-tech sectors across EU-28: women represented 29% of entrepreneurs in 2014 and 32.5% of employees in high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services in 2015. This is not a question of social inclusion. It is about economic growth: studies show that the women’s specific skills can help to diversify and consolidate enterprises; that closing the gender gap could generate an EU GDP increase of 13%.

In this context, FEMINA partners cooperate at interregional level to reach their overall aim: to ensure that selected policy instruments are integrated with measures to promote female engagement in their high-tech sectors, with a focus on sectors in their RIS3.

FEMINA considers how to identify, implement, monitor and evaluate policy measures that break down barriers to female high-tech entrepreneurship, to employment and career progression in high-tech SMEs and to the gender dimension of innovation in funding schemes for high-tech start-ups and SMEs.

Policy improvements are foreseen through specific projects funded to address these barriers, through improved policy management (e.g. gender criteria in monitoring) and through strategic focus, whereby partners work to include female participation in high-tech as a fundamental principle of their policies for SME competitiveness.

FEMINA’s main outputs are Action Plans, detailing these desired changes, which partners and selected stakeholders will implement and monitor over a 2-year period. The results of this implementation will benefit SMEs and the territory. An increase in female participation in high-tech entrepreneurship, employment and leadership should establish a culture of gender parity in these sectors, with impact on inclusive growth and regional competitiveness.


from 1 Jun 2018
to 31 May 2023

SME competitiveness

What policy instruments does the project address?

The Multiannual Programme (MP) of the Chamber of Commerce is a 5-year policy document. It defines the priority areas for the administration and strategic objectives. All activities carried out in the period of reference must be in line with this framework. The MP is developed using input from territorial stakeholders.


The MP it updated annually through the programmatic forecast report, thanks to results from monitoring activities (performance plan). This report is the strategic plan for each intervention priority. It translates Policy objectives into concrete activities and projects, with a relative financial allocation.


The overall goal of the MP is to support local enterprises. This is the mission of the Chamber of Commerce. In order to achieve this, the MP has 5 macro objectives. Among these, FEMINA is particularly relevant to Innovation and Formation and to Development of logistical infrastructure, technologies and services.


While Arezzo Chamber of Commerce has a Committee of Female Entrepreneurship and the above innovation objective, the MP could be improved in both fields. The challenge is both to strengthen committee activities and to link gender and innovation. The focus on female participation in high-tech fields is missing. This focus would help local SMEs, who seek input to strengthen competitiveness in a period of economic difficulty, and would contribute to regional objectives, particularly the new Industry 4.0 platform.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Arezzo Innovation

Through the specific objective “Promotion of products and services innovation”, the Region supports existing and new SMEs (operating in RIS3 sectors) to increase skills, improve products, introduce innovative and differentiated products and enhance competitiveness. The recession has highlighted the Region’s structural weaknesses and the economy has changed in terms of production base, employment, investments intensity and entrepreneurship. The policy should enhance regional investment attractiveness, assist SMEs in reaching new competitive markets and internationalising.


Support for SMEs include: supporting technological development and modernisation of SMEs in RIS3 domains; promoting qualitative enhancement, certification and standardisation of products; supporting new or upgraded products/services and differentiated production base; hosting production sites and facilities.


Equal opportunities and non-discrimination are horizontal principles of the POR. Instrument 3c addresses equal gender participation in the labour market from a “basic civil rights and opportunities for women” perspective. It leaves the competitiveness objective unaddressed. As such, its fails to establish the link between gender and competitiveness and to reflect the potential impact of female entrepreneurship on the economy. Thus, it is vital to explore the gender dimensions of increased high-tech SME competitiveness and to leverage female entrepreneurship as a driver of enhanced regional development.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Athens University of Economics and Business - Research Centre
  • Regional Development Fund on behalf of the Region of Sterea Ellada

ROP includes as Thematic Objective “Improving competitiveness of SMEs, agricultural sector, fishery and aquaculture”. Investment Priority 3a states “Entrepreneurship encouragement mainly by facilitating economic exploitation of new ideas and stimulating creation of new businesses, including business incubators”. Specific objective 2.1 should “Strengthen the market position of SMEs in the competitive domains identified by the National Research Strategy and the Regional Development Plan”.


The economic crisis marked the onset of the decline of the SME sector. The downward trend has intensified so that increases in the number of SMEs achieved in the period before the economic crisis was almost totally cancelled. Within this framework the ROP finances activities such as (i) construction/expansion of the production/services space of micro-enterprises, including endowment with tangible and intangible assets, and (ii) creating/expanding business incubators/accelerators, including the development of related services.


ROP includes as horizontal principle Gender Equality. However there is no direct connection between this principle and its potential to promote competitiveness in high tech sectors. This has not been recognised and issues such as female entrepreneurship, female access to employment and career progression or gender dimension of innovation are not directly addressed. Partner 6 believes that improving the policy in this respect would contribute to regional development.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Bucharest-Ilfov Regional Development Agency

The ERDF programme focuses investments on key priority areas: innovation and research; digital agenda; support for SMEs; low-carbon economy; promotion of social inclusion and fight against poverty.


FEMINA particularly addresses thematic objective (TO) 3, improving competitiveness of SMEs. In particular, it seeks to improve action lines 3d - support capacity of SMEs to grow at regional, national and international level and to engage in innovation - 030d1 - Promote growth and consolidation of SMEs (improving financing, technology, access to advanced support services) and 030d2 Promoting innovation and cooperation for innovation, in particular eco-innovation, social innovation. Within the specific line to promote female entrepreneurship, the ROP supports female job creation under a technological perspective (e.g. within digital sectors).


FEMINA partners in Cantabria consider female entrepreneurship as one of the most important drivers of job creation and economic growth. It is crucial for the development of a vibrant SME business sector. It enhances productivity growth and can help find practical solutions to social and environmental challenges. However, while the ROP considers equality between men and women through mainstreaming and specific positive actions, it does not currently reflect the link to competitiveness. It is important to clarify how female entrepreneurship can contribute to regional development objectives and where the ROP can intervene to achieve this.

Which partners are working on this?
  • SODERCAN - Cantabria Regional Development Agency
  • DG of Equality and Women Issues, Government of Cantabria

The thematic objective of the OP is strengthening research, technological development and innovation and the specific objective is increased number of innovative SMEs.


Within the thematic objective the programme funds preliminary studies, exchange of experiences and operations promoting a functioning innovation system; the development of innovative capacity of enterprises; interaction between enterprises, clusters, research and higher education; internationalisation.


The overall objective is to promote business investment in R&I and develop links and synergies between enterprises, research and development centres and the higher education sector. It promotes investment in product and service development, technology transfer, social innovation, eco-innovation, public service applications, demand stimulation, networking, clusters and open innovation through smart specialisation, and supporting technological and applied research, pilot lines, early product validation actions, advanced manufacturing capabilities and first production, in particular in key enabling technologies and diffusion of general purpose technologies.


The OP states that strengthened work on gender issues is important for the success of the instrument. However, this statement has not yet had significant impact. Moreover, the direct link between gender and the high-tech sector is not currently explicit. FEMINA is the chance to establish the link between priority and practice within the innovation priority.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Region Dalarna

The main objectives of the OP ERDF North are to promote business investment in Research and Investment (R&I); develop synergies between enterprises, R&D centres, knowledge institutions and higher education; and encourage innovation through smart specialisation. ERDF funds, in combination with public and private co-financing, should strengthen the R&I intensity in SMEs and improve their uptake of innovation. By fostering investments in these objectives, the region contributes to the overarching EU2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The region recognises the need for targeted investments, taking into account its socio-economic profile, as well as the European Council’s country-specific recommendations, overarching European and national strategies and, in particular, the Regional Innovation Strategy of Northern-Netherlands. Public funding support to a target of 575 SMEs is expected to trigger an additional EUR 57 million in private investments for innovation in the selected regional clusters linked to societal challenges.

There is room for improvement in this policy instrument. The instrument insufficiently addresses female participation in high tech jobs and the way in which they can contribute to innovation and sustainable growth. Through FEMINA, the partner and Managing Authority wish to investigate how a more active role for work in entrepreneurship, existing SMEs and the content of SMEs’ innovations can contribute to the overall goal of the programme.

Which partners are working on this?