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Daniels professors’ research examines how university entrepreneurship websites can make the strongest impact

We often wonder what motivates someone to pursue a new endeavor. But two Daniels professors are also asking who inspires entrepreneurial intent and how entrepreneurship programs can best deliver that message.

Rosanna Garcia, the Walter Koch Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship at the Daniels College of Business, and Dan Baack, a Daniels associate professor of marketing, co-wrote the research paper “Entrepreneurial intention is not black or white: an intersectional perspective,” currently under review. The authors explore how race and gender together play a role in motivating individuals to engage in entrepreneurial behavior, then use those findings to recommend best practices for inclusive website design for entrepreneurship programs.

For their study, Garcia and Baack built websites advertising university entrepreneurship programs and presented them to 562 business students from across the U.S. Each student viewed a website with videos of either white women, white men, minority women or minority men discussing entrepreneurship and what it’s like to operate a business. Copy and other content on the page varied to reflect a more masculine (agentic) or more feminine (communal) approach to entrepreneurship.

One of the images of minority women that Garcia and Baack used in their experimental websites.

When the students answered questions about the websites they saw, Garcia and Baack looked for data around how the content and design of these sites influenced decisions to actually enroll in entrepreneurship courses and to participate in entrepreneurship programs.

“What was extremely surprising to us was that the minority women had the greatest impact,” Garcia said. “I expected that the attitude would be, ‘I’m going to relate the most to the person who looks like me.’ In fact, it was really the opposite. In particular, white males responded most positively to minority females.”

Garcia believes these underrepresented groups convey an “underdog” message that resonates with everyone, regardless of race or gender—an insight that Garcia recommends universities be aware of when advertising their own entrepreneurship programs.

“I think it’s a case of, ‘If they can do it, so can I,’” Garcia said. “Minority women are a population that isn’t typically seen as being successful in entrepreneurship, but [we showed] these two women talking about how they started their company and how the university is supporting them.”

In another study, Garcia and Baack evaluated around 200 existing university entrepreneurship program websites. They found that images on these websites mostly depicted white men supported by agentic language describing the men as “in control, with a focus on their achievements and how successful they’re going to be,” Garcia said.

Garcia and Baack then compared those websites to entrepreneurship accelerator websites, where they found more communal-focused language. This choice of words reflects the kinds of socially conscious companies that women tend to create more often than men, Garcia said.

In addition, the professors found that many websites for entrepreneurship competitions featured only men holding trophies or winning checks, creating an implicit bias that women aren’t fiscally responsible or capable of winning competitions. They also found numerous websites showing only the backs of women’s heads—fewer images showed women as the main focus, which marginalizes the role of women in entrepreneurship.

Based on their studies, Garcia and Baack determined that there is a frequent bias in the way universities present their entrepreneurship programs online. Because of that, minorities and women who would be interested in pursuing those programs might not think entrepreneurship is a viable option for them.

An example of an entrepreneurship photo done right, according to Garcia.

Garcia says there’s a relatively easy fix. She recommends that university entrepreneurship program websites use an even mix of communal—focusing on support and working together—and agentic language—masculine-leaning wording that discusses challenges and success. Websites can prominently feature female minorities as spokespeople without alienating other student populations. As well, marketing communication departments should be cognizant of the photos they use, making sure there are clear, front-facing images of women, not just men holding prizes and winnings.

These key takeaways, Garcia said, can help universities connect with a wider audience of aspiring entrepreneurs and all of their intersecting identities.

“[Universities] might think, ‘We can’t put up images of minority women, because that’s not who our target market is,’” Garcia said. “The target market doesn’t care when it comes to entrepreneurship. They look at these minority representatives as role models and that has a positive impact on them.”