I recently had the pleasure of attending a roundtable discussion on women's entrepreneurship hosted by the Women's Startup Lab in the heart of Silicon Valley. In attendance was the U.S. Representative for California's 14th congressional district, Jackie Speier.
It was inspiring to hear of her commitment to not only women entrepreneurs, but to all women of California.
An interesting mix of entrepreneurs attended: some, like me, were service-based businesses, but the majority of the women in attendance were women founders of tech companies. The one common thread among us was that all of our businesses were helping to create change and make the world a better place in some small way.
We all know that starting any business is not for the faint of heart, but what was astounding to hear about were the obstacles that the women tech founders still have to persevere through as entrepreneurs. These stories included everything from women not being taken seriously because they are women to their endless difficulties in trying to obtain investment funding for their startups.
One founder shared that she spent countless days trying to obtain funding in the early stages of her company. Some days, she was out pitching to investors up to five times a day only to hear, "Come back when you have 'xyz.'" When she did come back with 'xyz,' she would be turned down again, and another request for more information or proof would follow.
Another founder shared about the endless sexism that women in tech experience, along with sexual harassment from male investors. One founder spoke up to share that when she did obtain funding after a successful pitch, the investor handed her a check and said, "This is the first time I have ever invested without receiving 'special favors.'"
It's the endless stories like these that are inspiring women entrepreneurs to take action to create a women-driven ecosystem, a system of partnership where women invest in each other through knowledge, support, and collaboration. But it's important to note that men are not excluded from the community.
When I spoke with Ari Horie, founder and CEO of Women's Startup Lab about this new movement, she said, "I would argue that all people thrive in the community, not just women."
However, Women's Startup Lab is providing female tech founders an alternative accelerator model that leverages network assets and professional coaching to foster business growth. "We are high caliber and high energy to yield results for our cohort members' businesses. The work of Women's Startup Lab gives the tech industry more and more examples that female tech leaders are future innovators and major players in the industry," Horie explains.
The Women's Startup Lab is showing their current cohort members and other female tech leaders that it's possible to achieve your business goals despite the obstacles the entrepreneurial path gives us by leveraging their unique business experiences into an investment thesis that venture capitalists and large conglomerates find attractive.
Recent alumni Monique Giggy, co-founder of Swing by Swing, a free golf GPS range finder application, and Liesl Capper, co-founder of Cognea, a cognitive computing and conversational artificial intelligence platform, went through Women's Startup Lab's program in 2012 and both operations were recently acquired by larger companies, Swing by Swing by Back9Network and Cognea by IBM Watson.
I recently interviewed Kay Koplovitz on this very topic. Koplovitz is the co-founder of Springboard Enterprises, a premier platform where influencers, investors and innovators meet to help women build 'big' businesses. Koplovitz is also known as the game-changing entrepreneur who founded USA Networks and the SyFy Channel.
Springboard launched officially in Silicon Valley on January 27, 2000, to select, train and present women entrepreneurs in technology and life science to raise venture capital. It was a very different world then, one in which women were almost entirely absent. Springboard had to change perceptions about women building scalable businesses, open doors to raise capital, and create the support systems all entrepreneurs need to grow to success.
"In the intervening years, we have brought over 550 companies to market, and they have collectively raised over $6.5 billion," explains Koplovitz, adding that more than a third have experienced positive liquidity events, with 11 IPOs from companies including iRobot, Constant Contact, and Zipcar.
In a 2013 article by Forbes, it was reported that women control US $20 trillion in annual consumer spending. I began to wonder what kind of impact could be made if more women invested in women-led companies.
I reached out to Suzanne Andrews, partner, Impact With Wings and recent graduate of the Pipeline Fellowship, an angel investing boot camp for women for her thoughts on the matter. "Women unquestionably have significant resources at our disposal. It seems to me that if we really looked at how to put these resources to work, we as women could have a lot of control over what kind of future is created," Andrew says.
Andrews became interested in angel investing for one simple reason: statistics show women founders are more successful in creating and running businesses, yet they're still underfunded in comparison to their male counterparts.
"Despite all of the research that has come out over the last two decades showing what a great investment opportunity women are, the behavior of the primarily male investment community has not changed very much," Andrews explains.
But with organizations like Women's Startup Lab and Pipeline Fellowship coming onto the scene, there may finally be some changes on the horizon for women in business. Andrews says, "With more women angel investors, and women in all stages of the investing pipeline, I expect we will be able to create a new playing field where gender is not an issue."