The Role of Evaluation for Entrepreneur Support Programs

The objective of this report is to draw on the literature pertaining to the evaluation of entrepreneur support programs to provide counsel to WEKH in the design of programs to support women entrepreneurs. The evaluation literature is an important resource to program designers because it not only describes programs and their participants but also distinguishes between programs that are successful in achieving their objectives and those that are not, and in many cases also describes the mechanisms by which outcomes are achieved. Further, this review is informed by the evaluation literature on entrepreneur support programs in general and literature on women’s entrepreneurship support programs where possible. It should be noted that the literature on support programs for women’s entrepreneurship is much less well developed than the literature on entrepreneurship support programs in general and as such represents a smaller portion of the studies included in this report.

Key Findings

Existing literature provides evidence of the need for incorporating a gender and diversity lens in the design and assessment of programs. There is ample research demonstrating that the “one size fits all” approach of entrepreneurship and business supports may inadvertently perpetuate existing inequities, resulting in unequal outcomes. Gender is an important consideration for organizations supporting entrepreneurship, since studies have found gendered differences in access to support services as well as firm performance. In addition, support service delivery and effects on firm performance were also found to vary for racialized, immigrant, and Indigenous entrepreneurs. This signals the importance for nuanced programs designs which take into account the specific needs of these groups and improve accessibility. 

This review demonstrates the need to better understand program participation on a population-specific level to allows program managers to understand who their programs are or are not supporting. Performance monitoring and evaluation can help service providers improve the delivery of their support services and its effectiveness in addressing actual needs of clients and to deep dive into more focused inspections of specific support services. 

Evaluations demonstrate the link between program intervention and improved firm performance. Such assessments provide insight into 1) whether the intervention has had a positive effect, 2) the time required to generate the effect, 3) the magnitude of the effect, and 4) which sub-groups of participants benefit most.

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