Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate how relational capital contributes to the startup phase of women-owned micro-enterprises. The motivation for the study stems from the fact that micro-enterprises are key drivers of economic growth and that woman entrepreneurs are key developers of these businesses. Design/methodology/approach – To gather data for our study, a qualitative research methodology was adopted using a case study approach based on examining current events of real life in depth (Yin, 2009). Nine cases of micro-enterprises run by women are analysed, focusing on the management of the start-up phase to investigate the nature and role of the relationships that are activated by the entrepreneurs. Findings – The paper develops the CAOS model of micro-entrepreneurship, examining the personal characteristics of the female entrepreneur (C); the environment in which the micro-enterprise operates (A); organizational and managerial aspects (O); and the motivations for starting a new business (S). Using this model, the authors’ are able to link these factors and classify different types of connections, it is possible to identify the kind of existing relations. From the analysis, it was found that a predominant use of networks characterized by informal and permanent relations, supporting the need to reconcile work and family and to involve relatives and friends in the network. This emphasizes the lack of strategy in the female-run micro-enterprises. Originality/value – Given that female entrepreneurship is regarded as central to the development and welfare of economies, the deepening of knowledge of how women entrepreneurs manage the start-up of her business can contribute to improving the effectiveness policies aimed at promoting the participation of female entrepreneurs in the economy.