Encouraging Female Entrepreneurs: One Event's Unique Approach

A Case Study of the Startup Weekend Women Algiers Event
By Marion Desmazieres, Global Facilitator at Startup Weekend

As a woman, I don't want to be hired because of a certain gender ratio that needs to be reached -- I want to be hired because of my skills. The same applies for events: I tend to stray away from events that are heavily women-branded unless the theme is Entrepreneurship or Technology. When I had the opportunity to facilitate Startup Weekend Women Algiers on April 18-20, I said yes wholeheartedly. Startup Weekend's Women editions are Startup Weekends with a twist: they aim to get more women involved primarily through promotional efforts and by reserving the majority of tickets for female participants. Traditional Startup Weekend events (non-­gender-­specific) are comprised of roughly 20% women and 80% men. Startup Weekend Women's Edition events in San Francisco, Seattle, London, and Singapore have succeeded in drawing a higher rate of female participants (roughly 65-­70% on average) while sticking to Startup Weekend's core mission: being the first starting point for new entrepreneurs. However, for the Algiers event, only women were allowed to participate.

Was an all-women event the right move?
The Lead Organizer of the Algiers event didn't want any male attendees, coaches, judges, or organizers to be involved. It was aimed at being a 100%-women Startup Weekend and I was not 100% enthusiastic about it. Our goal with Women's editions is to empower women. Is segregating them the best way to achieve this? Another problem: wouldn't our audience be turned away by a marketing campaign comprised of flowers, pink fonts, and all that feminine jazz?

I was wrong. Regarding the challenge of promoting the event: we reached 700 Facebook fans a day before the event and 55 female attendees, mostly students, showed up at the venue. 24 business ideas were 'pitched' and ten projects selected. They included an e-commerce website for antiques and a babysitting service as well as a car-sharing platform and a car repair business, encroaching on men's traditional turf.

A catalyst for self-confidence
In Algeria, women are not necessarily encouraged to pursue long studies or start their own ventures. On the first day of the event, a participant refused to be photographed for fear of her father discovering that she was at the event. I also heard the case of a student who was humiliated by her - female - teacher when she told her she was thinking of doing a Ph. D. Algerian girls do need programs such as all-women Startup Weekends to safely step out of their comfort zone to pitch startup ideas and work on projects with other passionate women. The impact is tangible: 'Through this experience I gained self-confidence. I got better at defending my ideas,' says Sonia Arkam, one of the team leaders. After team formation, attendees moved to a room together and some removed their hijab. They felt at home, comfortable.

The three winning teams of Startup Weekend Algiers met with the Cyberparc of Sidi Abdallah last week to get their projects incubated. These women did not only discover they could be entrepreneurs, they became entrepreneurs.

At Startup Weekend, increasing female participation at events is an intentional goal, but there is no single solution that can be widely applied to every entrepreneurial community. Strategies implemented by community leaders often differ, and we've seen a number of routes taken over the years. How has your community created a dynamic, balanced environment for entrepreneurs?