Exploring the motivations of ‘Mompreneurs’

As one of the fastest growing segments of the Canadian small-business landscape, you need only look within the household to find ‘mompreneurs’ taking charge of their newest careers.

Brescia University College professor Melissa Jean says her recent study on mompreneurs was a way to open eyes to the possibilities of entrepreneurship for women.

“An understanding of the differences between entrepreneurial expectations and realities is critical to evolving our knowledge of the entrepreneurial experience,” says Jean, whose study of 20 mompreneurs examined the motivations and expectation gaps of such women. “Mompreneurs are an important, distinct group of entrepreneurs who have yet to be examined thoroughly in the academic entrepreneurial literature.”

Women’s entrepreneurship in Canada has experienced considerable growth over the past two decades, increasing at an impressive rate of more than 200 per cent, according to an article co-authored by Jean, and presented at the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada annual conference in Montreal in July.

The most recent data available reports the majority of women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) brought in combined annual revenues of $72 billion, representing approximately 8 per cent of all revenues from Canada’s SMEs. Women have also been venturing into self-employment at twice the rate of men with the most recent statistics indicating approximately 959,000 women are self-employed in Canada.

Locally, the mompreneurs involved in the study represented product design and sales (clothing, bath and beauty products, children’s toys, etc.), children’s activity facilities and services (consulting, business/life coach practices, piano lessons, daycare, etc.) and online publishing and advertising communities.

Jean found a number of reasons for such a recent boom in mompreneurship: desire to balance family and work; increase in technological innovations; educational levels; even the federal government extending parental leave to a full year.

“There’s the desire of many women to have the opportunity to take a full year of parental leave, and then realize they don’t want to go back to the job they held prior to having a child,” Jean says. “Overall, these women are highly educated, have corporate experience and feel they can do this, control their schedule and see the family more than before.”

Jean wanted to discover the expectation gaps in these women. She found financing as the largest gap, followed closely by growth expectations, hours of work required, networking demands and compensation expectations.

“There is some consistency among the group of women I talked to when looking at financing gaps: What did they expect to put into the business and did the reality match up to that,” she says.

The majority of the women in her study started their businesses when their children were of pre-school age. The results may be different for moms with older children, Jean admits.

She looked at four categories of motivations for the women within the study:

  • ‘Classic motivator’ in the desire for control, independence and personal challenge;
  • Work/family factor in the desire for personal flexibility;
  • Forced factor of no job or current working conditions are bad; and
  • Intrinsic motivator of wanting personal goals and/or wanting to help people with their project.

Jean found the classic motivator to be the largest factor in the women’s desire to start their own business, with the work/family factor actually lower than expected. The majority of people she talked to didn’t do it for financial need, as most were in comfortable – not forced  – situations.

The work/family factor being as low as it was did surprise Jean.

“This finding was surprising to me and I think would be to others because there is a perception out there that women (especially new moms) start businesses in order to have more flexibility and time to be with their children,” Jean says. “ I think this perception was formed and continues to be fuelled by the popular media.”

While this factor was still present for her mompreneur sample, the explanation as to why it was not the top category is that motivations for women to start their own businesses are multi-faceted.

“All the women mentioned at least two motivating factors and some mentioned as many as five. I didn’t ask the women to rank the motivators in order of importance. That data could have provided further insight into this question.”

Jean also brought her students together with the mompreneurs as part of the Management and Organizational Studies course. Students develop a consulting relationship with the women as part of their coursework, which could prove beneficial since only 30 per cent of the women in the study had a business plan prepared.

“The idea is to address where these gaps are and what we can do help them address them,” Jean says. “All the women I spoke to were successful in their business. What might be interesting for me to explore would be to talk to women who decided to shut down. What expectation weren’t met? What were the reasons?”