6 Key Factors that Propel Successful Women Entrepreneurs

200 female entrepreneurs from Inc. 5000 companies shed light on what it means to be successful. 

By Shivani Sopory (Senior Manager, KPMG Venture Capital Practice)

Women have made strong advances in entrepreneurialism, an area of business long viewed as the domain of men. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of women-owned businesses increased 7 percentage points since 2007. As women continue to launch companies at increasing rates, it begs a question:  What does it take to be a successful female entrepreneur? KPMG explores this topic in Women Entrepreneurs: Passion, Purpose and Perseverance, a recent survey of 200 female entrepreneurs from Inc. 5000 companies. The key findings shed light on what propels women’s success in business – and what could propel yours.

1. Hard Work Pays Off

Whatever challenges they encounter, successful female entrepreneurs push on. The majority (67 percent) say working hard is the #1 trait that helps them navigate the inevitable bumps in the road of entrepreneurialism. Also high on the list: the ability to persevere when times get tough (65 percent) and a willingness to take risks (64 percent).

2. Good Advice is Hard to Find

Women entrepreneurs are quick to acknowledge the valuable role played by others — including mentors, colleagues and employees —  in their personal growth and growth of their businesses. However, many struggled to find female role models when they were working their way up. Although it’s becoming more and more common to see women in high-level positions, historically that wasn’t always the case. That may be why only 33 percent of respondents say other women were “extremely” or “very” important to their success, compared to 55 percent who credit friends and family. Of course, a great mentor is a great mentor – regardless of gender. And the best are nearby, eager to help, and offer valuable insights.

3. There’s Always Room for Self-Improvement

Female business founders are remarkably aware of the gaps in their personal skill sets and equally dedicated to addressing these areas of need. They highlight a long list of entrepreneurial and leadership skills they’d like to develop further: their willingness to let go of the details and delegate to others; their public speaking skills; their ability to motivate staff and enthuse the troops; their effectiveness at handling delicate human-resource and customer challenges; and their confidence to say “no.”  

4. Relying on Others is a Recipe for Success

The most critical asset of most organizations is their people. Successful women entrepreneurs recognize that attracting and retaining top talent is vital to building businesses, but it’s also a major challenge. That’s why 61 percent say their ability to hire and manage good people is a key factor in their success. Like all strong and effective leaders, they understand the areas in which they need help and they focus on surrounding themselves with good talent. They also excel at leveraging talent effectively and empowering their people to make decisions and take on leadership roles.

5. Risks Can Bring Rewards

If you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be able to thrive on uncertainty, not be paralyzed by it. In fact, for many entrepreneurs, taking risks may be a precursor to growth – especially in today’s climate of disruption. Although many academic studies suggest that women are more risk-averse than their male counterparts, most women entrepreneurs (55 percent) say they embrace risk-taking. They rank it third among the factors that are critical to their success (64 percent), and fifth among traits critical for CEOs and founders to possess (57 percent).

6. Confidence Counts – a Lot

At 83 percent, an overwhelming majority of women entrepreneurs rank self-confidence as a “must-have” trait for successful leadership. Confidence, which goes hand-in-hand with risk-taking, enables female entrepreneurs to make the bold, calculated decisions necessary to unlock growth in today’s disruptive, competitive environment – even when they have more questions than answers. Read Women Entrepreneurs: Passion, Purpose and Perseverance for more on what it takes for women to start businesses, become successful entrepreneurs, and lead their companies to the highest levels.


About the KPMG Venture Capital Practice: KPMG’s Venture Capital Practice offers audit, tax and advisory services tailored for venture-backed companies at each stage of development–from idea through exit. Our dedicated global network of professionals helps simplify the complex marketplace challenges facing high growth companies. Our mindset matches the companies we serve: nimble, hands-on, proactive, visionary and dedicated.