Female Entrepreneurship in Iran: Reshaping the Business Ecosystem and Culture

Globally, women business leaders have a tremendous impact on their markets, industries and communities through innovation, job creation and economic growth. Although on the surface this may not seem to be the case in Iran, there is ample evidence in support of how women entrepreneurs are gradually reshaping the business ecosystem and culture in Iran. Entrepreneurship in Iran is evolving with more women leaders capitalizing on digital tools and skills learned at universities.


Iranian Women in Business: Ancient Iran vs. the Modern Era

In the more matriarchal society of ancient Iran, women played a prominent role as commerce leaders. However, following the Islamic Revolution, their position in society was seen as revolving primarily around familial duties. The 1980s saw entrepreneurship become a focal point of Government strategy with an emphasis on improving the status of Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Iran. As a result, more female graduates chose entrepreneurship.


From Handicrafts to High-tech

In Iran, more than 80% of women are drawn to the idea of running home-based businesses. This allows them to tend to the needs of their families while also earning an income, providing a sense of freedom and flexibility. 

Initially, women-led businesses focused on traditional handicrafts like Persian carpets and handmade jewelry. Female entrepreneurs were often categorized by their income, social status and education level. While many women in rural areas remained in traditional sectors, urban areas saw a rise in women venturing into less traditional industries. 


Role of Social Media

The expansion of higher education opportunities has emboldened Iranian women to take a more active role in the business world, refusing to shy away from the challenges present in their homeland. The internet has also opened up a new world for aspiring entrepreneurs, providing easy access to online courses that teach them how to establish and grow an online business. 

Women aged 25 to 34 hold the most purchasing power and wield significant influence on social media. As such, engaging this demographic is crucial for the development of online businesses. Female IT professionals have gradually increased their presence in the startup ecosystem, establishing successful ventures across a range of industries.


Making an Impact Across Industries

Women business owners and entrepreneurs are active across various industries, which differ depending on their age and location. In more urban areas, younger women are more likely to start an ICT business than men. Women-led startups are present across different sectors, ranging from tourism to Artificial Intelligence (AI), chemicals, agri-tech and different types of consulting services.


The Challenges Facing Female Entrepreneurs in Iran

Female entrepreneurs in Iran face certain domestic, social and legal barriers since societal expectations dictate a more domestic role for them. Although there are no investment or business-related laws that are gender-specific, Iran has consistently ranked low in global gender gap reports. Access to financial resources, reliable information and establishing credibility constitute the biggest obstacles facing female entrepreneurs in Iran.

Despite challenges, the younger female generation has fully embraced the digital transformation and has capitalized on the ensuing economic opportunities. Online businesses proved to be the growth engine for female entrepreneurship with sales ranging from handicrafts to high fashion, jewelry, financial advisory courses and even IT services. 

The versatility and creativity of the younger generations are constantly being challenged due to certain restrictions. However, the new female founders overcome these challenges by opting for cross-channel and multi-platform digital and traditional marketing strategies.


Source: A 2023 research by sanctions-helpdesk.eu/