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28 października 2022

What industries do Polish women most often operate in? Companies founded by women with Norway Grants support


Every third company in Poland is founded and run by women, making our country one of the highest-ranked nations in the European Union in this regard. Analysis of National Court Register data by business intelligence firm Dun & Bradstreet shows that 32.5% of all companies in Poland were owned by women at the end of 2021. That potential of the Polish businesswomen can be noted in the projects that have been co-funded by Norway Grants.

There has recently been a noticeable increase in women’s labour market participation share, but that share is still lower than that of men. The latest data from the Polish Central Statistical Office (CSO) shows that in Q2 2022 the economically active accounted for 57.9% of the population aged 15-89. The labour force participation rate among men was 65.7%, while among women – 50.8% (the corresponding values for working-aged people were 83.0% and 76.6%). However, it is worth noting that the labour force participation index for those aged 15-89 increased among women as compared to the previous quarter and year-on-year, while it decreased among men.

By contrast, analysis of National Court Register data carried out by Dun & Bradstreet, a business intelligence company, shows that the number of women-owned companies in Poland at the end of 2021 was 3% lower than a year earlier, accounting for 32.5% of all companies. Women own 31% of microbusinesses with up to 9 employees, 25.5% of small businesses (10 to 50 employees), 15.7% of medium-sized businesses (51 to 250 employees), and only 13.3% in the large business sector (over 250 employees). One of the factors that affected the decline in women’s business activity was the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by Sukces Pisany Szminką [Success Written in Lipstick] Foundation, one in five female entrepreneurs had to change their business profile due to the pandemic.

On the other hand, the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development’s (PARP) report on the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Poland 2021 survey, shows that the share of women running young companies dropped in 2020 as compared to the previous year – to 2.4% from 5.1% of the female population. Men also saw a decline, but a smaller one - to 3.8% from 5.7% of the male population. The share of women running mature companies also declined, from 12.5% in 2019 to 7.9% in 2020, while men saw an increase from 13% to 16.6%. Thus, the gender gap in Poland, defined as the difference between the percentage of men running businesses among men overall and the percentage of women running businesses among women overall, has increased. As for young companies, it amounted to 1.4%, still at a relatively low level. However, for mature companies, its value reached 8.7%, the highest since the beginning of the GEM survey in Poland. Women also rated their own entrepreneurial skills lower than men’s and felt a greater fear of failure.

Women business owners subsidised by Norway Grants

“Small grants scheme for female enterprises” financed by the Norway Grants under PARP’s “Business Development and Innovation” programme aimed to financially support projects implemented by companies which women own or in which they have a decisive management voice.

“The grant scheme was welcomed with great interest. It currently covers 45 contracts which have received over EUR 6 million in funding. The scheme concerns three support areas: environmentally friendly technologies, innovation in the area of marine and inland waters, and technologies that improve the quality of life. Each company could have been granted up to EUR 200,000 in funding,” PARP President Dariusz Budrowski noted.

One of the companies that received support under the “Small grants scheme for female enterprises” is Neurons sp. z o. o. with funding of EUR 199,000 for a therapeutic innovation – an exoskeleton (a portable bionic skeleton for gait re-education) powered by the lower limbs and a verticalisation table with walking function. The Neuron company has been providing inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for 20 years for people with psychomotor dysfunctions, including children, athletes and adults who need to restore fitness that was lost or impaired as a result of illness, accident, surgery or injury. Under project the company intends to introduce an innovative rehabilitation service provided by means of a lower limbs powered exoskeleton and an uprighting table with walking function. Such solutions address the needs of people whose motor skills are significantly limited due to accidents or severe neurological diseases – people who are unable to recover on their own or through traditional rehabilitation.

Another small grants scheme beneficiary is Lifebite Katarzyna Goch which has been granted over EUR 120,500 in funding for a project aimed at the development and internationalisation of a mobile application to support fertility and pregnancy efforts. The app responds to the needs of couples wishing to conceive in terms of access to factual knowledge about factors affecting fertility, improved health habits, personalised preventive recommendations, increased involvement of the partner in trying to conceive. It will also provide psychological support to mitigate the difficult emotions of scheduling intercourse on specific days of the cycle, and the stress associated with the whole process.

“The idea to create a solution for women that breaks the mould and offers real help took several years to develop. It was a response to important, and in my opinion neglected, needs. On the one hand, women are deciding to become mothers later and later in life, and they don’t have enough knowledge about their own fertility, and one in five may experience difficulties getting pregnant. On the other hand, there is a lack of tools to facilitate access to proven knowledge. On the Internet, on forums or cycle-tracking apps, many myths and unhelpful, sometimes even harmful advice continue to spread. At the same time, especially during the period of trying to conceive, many couples and relationships face difficulties in talking about their needs. Communicating information about fertile days, mood or desire for intimacy is often awkward and embarrassing. It all started with these observations. In conjunction with Prof. dr med. Krzysztof Łukaszuk, an expert in reproductive medicine, we have begun work on a friendly but substantive mobile application. It’s called iYoni. It is the first app to assess fertility and help decide on the direction of infertility treatment. It helps to realistically assess the chances of pregnancy, suggests diagnostic tests and possible treatment paths. It also includes basic functions like precise cycle tracking, recording daily activities and symptoms, and access to an article database. Everything is supported by artificial intelligence. iYoni is the first medical-grade app developed by reproductive medicine specialists and sexologists. It also supports relationships by facilitating open, intimacy-based communication with a partner,” explains Katarzyna Goch, founder of Lifebite and co-creator of the iYoni app.

She emphasises that it was the NG funding that made it possible to implement the innovative medical function that helps assess fertility and previous management in trying to get pregnant. Prominent Polish and foreign professors and specialists were invited to join. A communicator dedicated to couples has also been developed to help take care of the relationship and intimate life.

“We want to challenge cycle tracking apps, which are often nothing more than a marketing product. And we want to operate in both the Polish and international markets. This is also made possible by funds from Norway Grants. The app is currently available in both stores (Google Play and App Store) in Polish, English and German. We are translating it into Spanish, Swedish and Norwegian. Ahead of us are studies of foreign markets and tests with female users. We will also use mentoring services to develop competence in the areas of digital product management, AI implementation and internationalisation,” says Katarzyna Goch.

When asked what prompted her to start her own company and whether she sees any barriers to the advancement of women in business, the Lifebite founder responds:

“I have always wanted to change the world for the better, and work in an environment of like-minded, open-minded and creative people. I have been fortunate to have met many such. Owning your own company is a way to create a mission- and values-based, friendly environment to achieve common goals. I think the biggest barrier facing women in business is a lack of self-confidence. Owning your own business is a big challenge, it requires that you constantly and continuously learn, and take risks. For this you need courage and faith that anything is possible. Fortunately, women have more and more of both.”

Design and Business sp. z o.o., which specialises in industrial design consulting services, is another beneficiary of the same grant scheme. The company receives EUR 92,000 in funding for a project aimed at developing and launching an innovative consulting service, designing and manufacturing prototype components and pilot series of smart eco-friendly packaging for small batch production, based on environmentally friendly technologies. Under the project, a line of eco-friendly, smart food packaging made exclusively from natural, biodegradable components is to be brought to market. This will enable HoReCa customers to prototype new solutions quickly and cheaply, and to gain the ability to fulfil custom orders. The project will also make it possible to counter food waste by using packaging that extends shelf life, minimising the use of single-use plastic products, and meeting zero waste and sustainability standards. It is worth noting that the project won the top prize in the “Projekt Przyszłości [the Project of the Future]” category at the Forum Inteligentnego Rozwoju [Smart Development Forum] Uniejów 2022.

“The motivation behind the green food packaging project was not only the current market trends (including those related to the eco-friendliness of packaging and anti-waste) but, above all, the clear needs of the target customers from the HoReCa industry and local food producers, who often cannot afford to order dedicated packaging for their products from large suppliers. The project implemented at Design and Business (subsidised under the “Small Grant Scheme” competition) ultimately leads to the implementation of a packaging design and manufacturing service for food manufacturers. With the design service, it will be possible to quickly and conveniently obtain requirements and then translate them into packaging design, prototyping, testing and small batch production. Such a service fills a gap in the packaging market by making it easier for smaller entities to have non-standard packaging (produced in small batches), which large production facilities (e.g., printers) do not undertake or which small companies cannot afford,” emphasises the president of Design and Business sp. z o.o., Dominika Czechowska.

The project is currently in the R&D phase. The main needs of core audiences were identified, and research into potential materials for use in prototyping and packaging design was conducted. In addition, components for packaging production were selected, basic (base) packaging designs were developed, and production processes defined. Sub-models and a prototype series were also made and tested based on key performance criteria (such as packaging strength, transportation safety or retention of properties of selected products stored in packaging made of environmentally friendly materials). These stages allowed the validity verification of the implementation of the target design service for implementation and the awarded grant enabled the implementation of the packaging design project, material research and testing. In the next stages, it is planned to purchase machinery and equipment to facilitate prototyping and small batch packaging production.

And Simply Care sp. z o.o. has been granted more than EUR 137,000 in funding from the Norway Grants to develop an innovative SilverCustom service aimed to help companies adapt their products to the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities. The project involves the creation of a product testing toolkit which will include: software to enable prototyping of tested products, applications, interfaces adapted to the needs of the senior customer, geriatric suits to enable testing, a focus research on a group of senior users, a team of experts to conduct testing and prototyping (making changes) in tested products, services and applications, and a service to create assumptions for the marketing strategy for the needs of the senior customer.

What industries do women most often operate in?

Data shows that the service market is dominated by women – ⅔ of the service industry companies are owned by Polish women. An analysis of the National Court Register conducted by Dun & Bradstreet, an intelligence agency commissioned by the Sukces Pisany Szminką Foundation, shows that in the first quarter of 2022, the largest percentage of businesses owned by women (76%) were registered in the “social assistance without accommodation” section which covers various types of support for the elderly and disabled and child care, including nurseries. In the related “social assistance with accommodation” section, 64% of companies were owned by women. Also managed by women are 55% of companies in the “health care” section which includes medical and dental practices, physiotherapy, nursing and midwifery activities. Women own more than half of the companies classified as “manufacture of basic pharmaceutical substances and drugs and other pharmaceutical substances.” Polish female entrepreneurs also own 46% of businesses in the education sector, including kindergartens, schools, companies organising all kinds of courses and training, language schools, driving lessons, career counselling companies and those providing psychological and pedagogical assistance. The third sector in terms of the number of women-owned businesses is “other individual service activities,” including hairdressing and beauty salons, laundries, solaria, massage and slimming salons, tattoo and piercing parlours, animal care and grooming, funeral homes, astrological and spiritualist activities, among others. Women account for 63.5% of all business owners in this category. Also, many Polish women are active in finance-related industries, with just over half of the companies in the legal, accounting and tax consulting business, as well as 47% registered in the insurance, reinsurance, and pension fund sectors. A sizeable number of companies managed by women can be found in the tourism industry – 48.5% in the accommodation sector which includes hotels, lodging establishments and campgrounds, and 48% in the “activities of tour operators, travel agents and brokers and other reservation service and related activities” sector. Also dominated by women are the industries “manufacture of clothing” – 62% of companies, and “textile production” – 53.5%. Women own more than half of the businesses registered in the “gaming and betting activities” category and half in the “retail trade, excluding retail trade in motor vehicles” category.

What keeps women from running a business?

A survey by the Sukces Pisany Szminką Foundation shows that as many as 68% of Polish women without their own business would like to start a company. At the same time, only 9% of Polish women said they do not lack the confidence to take on challenging tasks, and almost 60% are guided by the judgement of others when making changes in their professional lives. The concerns most often cited by women hesitating to start their own business were lack of a business idea (25%) and an inconvenient financial situation (20%). More than 16% of respondents are held back by a lack of confidence. One in ten respondents is concerned about excessive bureaucracy, and 9% believe they do not have enough knowledge about the tools needed to run a business. In contrast, the biggest motivation for ¼ of female respondents to start their own business is the desire to be independent. Nearly ⅕ of those surveyed want to have a say in their work, and almost as many are attracted by the vision of deciding their own hours and wanting to do something in line with their interests. More than ¼ of the respondents would like to grow the company globally, while half would prefer to operate locally.

The programme “Business Development and Innovation”, from which the above-mentioned projects received support, is implemented under the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2014-2021 and the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism 2014-2021.


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