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February 11 2014

14:49
Levo Raises $7M To Connect Young Female Professionals
macbook on desk, from picjumboLevo League, a site with career resources for young women, announced today that it has raised $7 million in angel funding from investors including Lubna Olayan, the CEO of Saudi Arabian firm Olayan Financing Co. and Véronique Morali, president of Fimalac in France, as well as CEO of Webedia/Allocine. Previous supporters have included Sheryl Sandberg, who made an angel investment in Levo before publishing "Lean In," and former Ning CEO Gina Bianchini.

July 30 2013

19:16
Google's Got Its Own Lean In, Teams With Politico And Tory Burch For “Women Rule”
Women Rule is a new programming and event series to recognize female leaders and bring them together to give advice to women in politics and business. The joint partnership between politics blog Politico, Google, and women's support network The Tory Burch Foundation will produce an online media hub and four-part event series in Washington, D.C., that explore the challenges female leaders face.

March 29 2013

17:01
Focused On Women, Sprightly Debuts A Visual Content Platform Showing What's Hot Across Fashion, Beauty, Design Sites & More
Sprightly, a newly launching startup whose founding team has an extensive history working in female-focused businesses, including Refinery29, Etsy, Chloe+Isabel, and others, is debuting its content aggregation platform on Monday, with a focus on verticals like fashion, beauty, design, decor, and more. TechCrunch has early invites (see below).

September 02 2012

15:00
In The World Of Tech, Women Can Have It All
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Editor's note: Michal Tsur is a serial tech entrepreneur, having co-founded online security firm Cyota and open-source video platform Kaltura, where she is currently president. Leah Belsky is a fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, where she contributes on online collaboration and technology policy, and is currently SVP of Kaltura. The blossoming tech startup generation, and the new wave of professional women seeking success in the workplace and at home don’t always cross paths. Tech industries suffer from a noticeable lack of strong female leadership at the top, while powerful women have mostly flocked to traditional industries. Although the concept of “having it all” might itself be elusive, it’s time that women who value both a rich home life and a fulfilling career explore the tech startup world.
Tags: Opinion TC women

July 27 2012

18:32
Modington Lets You Shop For Outfits, Not Just Clothes
modington-logo
Pranav Dharma, a former IBM engineer, self-described "fashionable" geek, and founder of new women's apparel startup Modington, thinks that today's online e-commerce sites don't reflect how women really shop for clothes and accessories. So he decided to create one. Enter, Modington. "I was inspired by observing how my wife shops," says Dharma, "she would get a dress, then started hunting for accessories. I thought there's room for improvement there [with online shopping], because the current websites don't seem to capture this natural manner in which women tend to shop," he explains.

July 23 2011

14:31

I Don’t Want To Be A Diversity Candidate

Editor’s note: Guest author Bindu Reddy is the CEO of MyLikes, a word-of-mouth ad network funded by former Googlers

When we were raising our angel round, I had a phone conversation with a prominent Silicon Valley investor who did not have time to meet me face-to-face but was interested in investing in MyLikes because I was a female entrepreneur—aka the “diversity candidate.”

While it is difficult to say no to money, especially when someone is giving it to you without even listening to what it is that you are doing, I felt insulted and unhappy.  I felt that I was competent enough to raise money and build a successful business regardless of my gender, not because of it.

In all fairness, this angel and many other supporters of women in technology have good intentions. However, they don’t realize that by calling out someone’s gender they make the system less meritocratic.

Coming from India, I have a personal perspective on the unintended consequences of such policies. My alma mater (the Indian Institute of Technology) is a highly meritocratic institution—admission is based on a completely objective criteria: stack ranking in a single entrance examination taken by students all across the country.

However, there is one exception: a certain number of seats are reserved for students from castes who have been historically discriminated against. It helps in some cases by providing opportunities to people who could really use them, but in most instances it simply does not work. It undermines the really good people who would have been admitted without the quota and causes a lot of insecurity and stress amongst people who don’t have the ability to cope in a highly competitive environment.  There is also a lot of anger and resentment from others who just missed getting admission as well.

Stepping back, at a more fundamental level, I am not really sure we should worry about the lack of women in tech any more than worrying about why there are not more female truck drivers or more male nurses.

Women and men are different.  Even in an ideal world, where women and men have the freedom to choose what they want to do, without any prejudices or social bias, we will continue to have male and female dominated professions.

Fundamentally, people will gravitate towards professions and careers that they are good at or have an innate advantage at.

That said, we are still far from that perfect world. Women tend to get paid less than men even if they perform equally well and there is no denying that there are still many biases against women even in professions that they are likely to be better at. While I do think we should do what we can to foster gender equality, I don’t believe preferential treatment or having diversity quotas is the answer.

Quotas always tend to be bad for everyone concerned in the long run—the female candidate who got the job because she was a woman, the hiring manager who may have compromised with a B player and the rest of the team who will always harbor the thought—“she is where she is, because she is a woman.” Worst of all it does a real disservice to the women who are simply better at their jobs.



March 20 2011

14:26

Why Women Rule The Internet

Editor’s note:  This guest post is written by Aileen Lee, Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.  Aileen focuses on investing in early stage consumer internet ventures and previously  worked at Gap, Odwalla, The Northface and Morgan Stanley.  She was also founding CEO of KP-backed RMG Networks.  Full disclosure: some of the companies mentioned below are KP-backed companies.  You can read more about Aileen at KPCB.com and follow her on twitter at @aileenlee.

It feels like we’re in a Golden Age of the web, led by consumer internet services and e-commerce.  Just consider these stats: Facebook—over 600 million users.  Twitter—25 billion tweets last year. Tumblr—1 billion page views a week.  Zynga—100 million users on Cityville in just 6 weeks.  We’re witnessing a generation of consumer web companies growing at an unprecedented rate in terms of both user adoption and revenue.

But here’s a little secret that’s gone unnoticed by most.  It’s women.  Female users are the unsung heroines behind the most engaging, fastest growing, and most valuable consumer internet and e-commerce companies.  Especially when it comes to social and shopping, women rule the Internet.

Consider some more data. Comscore, Nielsen, MediaMetrix and Quantcast studies all show women are the driving force of the most important net trend of the decade, the social web. Comscore says women are the majority of users of social networking sites and spend 30% more time on these sites than men; mobile social network usage is 55% female according to Nielsen.

In e-commerce, female purchasing power is also pretty clear.  Sites like Zappos (>$1 billion in revenue last year), Groupon ($760m last year), Gilt Groupe ($500m projected revenue this year), Etsy (over $300m in GMV last year), and Diapers ($300m estimated revenue last year) are all driven by a majority of female customers.  According to Gilt Groupe, women are 70% of the customer base and they drive 74% of revenue.  And 77% of Groupon’s customers are female according to their site.

Women even shop more onChegg, which offers textbook rentals on college campuses across the country. Males and females attend college at an almost even rate. Renting would seem an equal opportunity money saver, plus it’s better for the planet.  But according to Chegg, females are 65% of renters.  Why? Renting requires a little more advanced planning.  Chegg’s research shows women are more inclined to plan ahead than men. And, they seem to care more about saving money, and are more likely to be influenced by a friend’s recommendation.

It’s no accident Amazon.com launched a program called “Amazon Mom” last year, or that they bought both Zappos and Quidsi (parent company of Diapers.com, Beauty.com and Soap.com) for almost $1.8 billion in total.  According to the US Census Bureau, women oversee over 80% of consumer spending, or about $5 trillion dollars annually. Women control the purse strings when it comes to disposable income. That’s long been the case.

But what’s different now is that there is an exciting new crop of e-commerce companies building real revenue and real community, really fast, by purposefully harnessing the power of female consumers.  One Kings Lane, Plum District, Stella & Dot, Rent the Runway, Modcloth, BirchBox, Shoedazzle, Zazzle, Callaway Digital Arts, and Shopkick are just a few examples of companies leveraging “girl power.”  The majority of these companies were also founded by women, which is also an exciting trend.

And take a look at four of the new “horsemen” of the consumer web—Facebook, Zynga, Groupon and Twitter.  This may surprise you, the majority of all four properties’ users are female.  Make that “horsewomen”.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has talked about how women are not only the majority of its users, but drive 62% of activity in terms of messages, updates and comments, and 71% of the daily fan activity.  Women have 8% more Facebook friends on average than men, and spend more time on the site.  According to an early Facebook team member, women played a key role in the early days by adopting three core activities—posting to walls, adding photos and joining groups—at a much higher rate than males.  If females had not adopted in the early days, I wonder if Facebook would be what it is today. (Why do you think all the guys showed up?)

How about gaming, seemingly a bastion of men in their man caves?  The titan of social gaming, Zynga, says 60% of players are female.  And a survey by PopCap shows females are the majority of social and casual game players. In fact, they note the average social gamer is likely a 43-year-old woman.

And more women use Twitter, which has a reputation for being a techie insider’s (i.e., male) product.  Women follow more people, tweet more, and have more followers on average than men, according to bloggers Dan Zarella and Darmesh Shaw’s analyses.

Brian Solis’s analysis shows females are the majority of visitors on the following sites, which he calls “matriarchys”:  Twitter, Facebook, Deli.ci.ous, Docstoc, Flickr, Myspace, Ning, Upcoming.org, uStream, Classmates.com, Bebo and Yelp.  The one “patriarchy” site he notes, where males > females:  Digg.

Yes, women also rock sites like Opentable and Yelp. According to Yelp, while half of their traffic is male, the majority of contributors and ecommerce purchasers are female.  And according to OpenTable, the majority of bookings are overwhelmingly made by females.  Why?  Likely because women drive most decisions about where to go and where to eat.

Perhaps none of this is surprising.  Women are thought to be more social, more interested in relationships and connections, better at multi-tasking.  There is also anthropological research to back this up.  Dave Morin of Path introduced me to Dunbar’s Number, proposed by the anthropologist Robin Dunbar.  The number is the theoretical limit of how many people with whom one can maintain stable relationships (thought to be 150).  But Dunbar’s most recent research shows there are different numbers for women than men—that women are able to maintain quantitatively more relationships within every ring of closeness than men.  Knowing that is an important factor if you want to build and stoke social network effects.  More female users will likely help your company grow faster.

So, if you’re at a consumer web company, how can this insight help you.  Would you like to lower your cost of customer acquisition?  Or grow revenue faster?  Take a look at your product, your marketing, your customer base.  Maybe you would benefit from having a larger base of female customers.  If so, what would you change to make your product/service more attractive to female customers?  Do you do enough product and user interface testing with female users?  Have you figured out how to truly unleash the shopping and social power of women?

You could also take a look at your team.  Do you have women in key positions? If you’re planning on targeting female customers, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to have great women on your team.

If you are already targeting female customers, have great women working in your company, and are seeing strong commerce and social network effects, congratulations.  You are likely trying to figure out how to handle hypergrowth right now.  Plus your office probably smells pretty good.

Women are the routers and amplifiers of the social web.  And they are the rocket fuel of ecommerce.  The ongoing debate about women in tech has been missing a key insight. If you figure out how to harness the power of female customers, you can rock the world.



October 10 2010

16:55

October 09 2010

15:50

Women Don’t Want To Run Startups Because They’d Rather Have Children

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Penelope Trunk.

My company, Brazen Careerist, is moving from Madison, WI, to Washington, DC, where our new CEO lives.

Running the company has been absolute hell. Not that I didn’t know it would be hell. It’s my third startup. Each has had its own hell before we were solidly funded, but this one was so bad that my electricity was turned off, and I really thought I was going to die from stress.

So while my company moves its center to DC, I’m staying in Wisconsin. I just married a farmer and my two young sons and I are learning to live among the wonders of pigs and cattle and corn.

I thought I would be sad that the company is moving. It’s weird to be the founder of a company and not be where all the action of the company is. But honestly, I’m relieved.

There is good evidence that you have to be crazy to do a startup. Jeff Stibel, writing in the Harvard Business Review, calls entrepreneurship a disease. Because you are not likely to make money – you are likely to die broke. And you work insane hours – longer than any other job – and you do it over and over and over again. This is not sane.

In fact, David Segal reports in the New York Times that there is a mania that entrepreneurs exhibit that is very attractive to investors. The trick is to make sure you’re investing in someone who is on the border of insane, but not insane.

So I had a going away party. To say goodbye, but also to acknowledge that I am officially not crazy enough to spend another year missing out on being with my kids. There is still an office in Madison, but the company is running well enough that I don’t have to be the center of it.

It’s hard to not be the center, but I want to be the center of my family. There are enough articles in the last year alone to fill a book (not to mention conference panels) about why women don’t get funding for startups. But really, you could tell that story on one page: Startups move at break-neck pace, under a lot of pressure to succeed bigger and faster than any normal company. And women don’t want to give up their personal life in exchange for the chance to be the next Google. Or even the next Feedburner. Which is why the number of women who pitch is so small, and, therefore, the number of women who get funding is small.

Did you know that in Farmville, women make colorful, fun farms, and men make big, sprawling farms? And I don’t think it’s a social pressure sort of thing. My sons are under no pressure from me to beat each other up with anything that they can turn into a sword, which is everything. And the girls who visit are under no social pressure to sit quietly, and watch. Boys and girls are fundamentally different even before they get to Farmville.

Women are under real pressure to have kids, though. They have a biological clock. So women who are the typical age of entrepreneurs—25—need to be looking for someone to mate with. Think about it. If you want to have kids before you’re 35—when your biological clock explodes—then you need to start when you’re 30, allowing for one miscarriage, which is more probable than most young people think. If you need to start having kids when you’re 30, you probably need to meet the guy you’re going to marry by the time you’re 27, so you can date for a year, get married, and live together for a year before kids. If you need to meet that guy by 27, you are very distracted during your prime startup time. (I have done years of research to come to this conclusion. Here’s the post.)

And I’m not even going to go into the idea of women having a startup with young kids. It is absolutely untenable. The women I know who do this have lost their companies or their marriages or both. And there is no woman running a startup with young kids, who, behind closed doors, would recommend this life to anyone.

For men it’s different. We all know that men do not search all over town finding the perfect ballet teacher. Men are more likely to settle when it comes to raising kids. The kids are fine. Men are more likely than women to think they themselves are doing a good job parenting. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Men have to trust that the kids will be okay so that they can leave and go get food or make more kids.

Before you tell me there are exceptions, I’m going to let you in on a secret: I’m a magnet for high-powered women with stay-at-home husbands. And when the men aren’t listening, the women always tell me that their men don’t pay enough attention and they (the women) are really running the household. They would never say this to the men. It would de-motivate them. So even the most child-oriented men are not as child-oriented as their wives.

And this is why women don’t have startups: children. It’s not a complicated answer. It’s a sort of throw-back-to-the-50’s answer. You could argue the merits of this, but you could not argue the merits of this with any woman who has kids and has a startup.

There’s a reason that women start more businesses than men, but women only get 3% of the funding that men do. The reason is that women want a lifestyle business. Women want to control their time, control their work, to be flexible for their kids. This seems reasonable: Women start more lifestyle businesses and men start more venture-funded businesses. This does not, on face value, seem inherently problematic.

But wait, let’s ask why so many men with kids are doing startups? Why aren’t they with their kids? A startup is like six full-time jobs. Where does that leave the kids? We use social service funding to tell impoverished families that it’s important for dads to spend time with their kids. But what about startup founders? Is it okay for them to leave their kids in favor of 100-hour weeks? For many founders, their startup is their child.

My startup is me and a bunch of twenty-something guys. And if you’re a woman launching a startup, my advice is to stick with this crowd. They never stop working because it’s so exciting to them: the learning curve is high, they can move anywhere, they can live on nothing, and they can keep wacky hours.

The problem with that mix is that someone who is not a guy in his 20’s has different priorities. And that’s something we saw really clearly at Brazen Careerist. The more I became focused on my personal life, the more annoyed everyone got with me. Sure, they understood, but they were pissed also.

I think our new setup will alleviate much of that stress. I’m on the farm, Ryan Paugh is in Madison, and Ryan Healy is in DC. It’s not how I imagined the company evolving when we started it, but that’s part of the fun of entrepreneurship: you never get what you imagined, ever.



May 15 2010

13:52

Fixing Societal Problems: It Starts With Mom and Dad

I am quite used to controversy—unsurprisingly, given the topics that I have been exploring with my academic research. But what has really been a surprise is the hornet’s nest that I seem to have stirred up with my two TechCrunch posts and BusinessWeek column on the dearth of women entrepreneurs. At every event I’ve been to recently, women have come up to me to say thanks for raising awareness of this issue and for providing them with encouragement; the New York Times ran a big feature story echoing my words; and several VC friends sent me emails congratulating me for “having the courage to speak up”. On the flip side, I’ve also taken fire from some VCs. One woman VC wrote a TechCrunch post chiding me for being “patronizing”; others declared on Twitter that all my posts are “garbage”; and I received some really nasty e-mails questioning “my agenda”. So I know that I’ve touched a nerve, and that this is a really important topic.

There is little doubt that there is a problem, and that it is societal. Women start only around 3% of the nation’s tech firms; they are almost absent in high-level technology positions; they contribute to fewer than 5% of all IT patents and 1.2% of open-source software; and the proportion of women-led companies receiving venture capital has dropped dramatically over the past few years. This is despite the fact that girls now match boys in mathematical achievement; 140 women enroll in higher education for every 100 men; and women earn more than 50 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees and nearly 50 percent of all doctorates (see this white paper by Cindy Padnos).

It’s not that women can’t cut it in the rough and tough business world. Women-led companies are more capital-efficient, and venture-backed companies run by a woman have 12% higher revenues, than others. They also have lower failure rates. A new Kauffman Foundation report, which I coauthored with Joanne Cohoon of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, shows that women and men company founders are remarkably similar in their backgrounds, motivations, and success factors.

I’ve never suggested that women should receive special treatment. Quite to the contrary, I’ve written that they need to learn from other groups, such as Indians, who achieved extraordinary success by helping each other. What I’m arguing is that if you’re going to fix a problem, you need to start by admitting that it exists and then fix its root causes. Don’t pretend that everything is okay just because you can highlight a few random successes.

I realized what the biggest societal problem is, when listening to three great women tell their stories at the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Awards Banquet, last Wednesday: Mom and Dad.

Kristina Johnson, Lila Ibrahim, and Kathleen McKeown

My former dean and mentor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, Kristina Johnson, attributed much of her success to her parents. Her father, an electrical engineer, taught her the joy of building things and helped her develop a curiosity for how things work; her mother taught her the importance of education in what Eleanor Roosevelt called “the beauty of our dreams”. Kristina is now working as Under-Secretary of Energy in the Obama administration to “save the planet”.

Columbia University Computer Science professor, Kathleen McKeown, has pioneered technologies in text summarization and natural-language generation. Her mother was an applied mathematician who was determined to raise a family and work during the days when women just played the role of housewives. She taught her daughters to be tough and defy society when necessary, to fulfill their dreams.

Intel General Manager, Lila Ibrahim, who has been leading Intel’s initiatives to provide education technology to the third world, came from an Arab family, in which, traditionally, few women work. Yet her parents pushed her to pursue higher education and excel.

All three of these women said that they wouldn’t have achieved their success without the support of their parents. All were swarmed by students at the end of the evening; like most aspiring women entrepreneurs, all the young students want is some encouragement from their role models. These are the  keys to fixing the societal problems: parents need to teach their daughters that they can help change the world by becoming engineers and scientists, and successful women need to provide them with encouragement and coaching.

I attended another very interesting event yesterday: TiEcon, which is probably the largest entrepreneurial networking event in Silicon Valley. I moderated a lively debate between Kauffman Foundation VP, Lesa Mitchell; NCWIT CEO, Lucinda Sanders; Polyvore CEO, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy; and Schmoop CEO, Ellen Siminoff, on the missing women entrepreneurs. We debated whether there was a problem and then discussed solutions.

Singh and Siminoff also talked about their supportive parents. But they argued that there is no societal problem for women; it is just a matter of women building the confidence to succeed and taking on the world —like they did. Women won’t benefit by “having a chip on their shoulder”. When presented with hard data from Sanders and Mitchell, who have been researching this, they acknowledged that women outside the valley don’t have access to the same networks as they do, and so they are at a disadvantage; as are women who don’t have supportive parents. The panel agreed that women who are at the “tipping point”—who have an interest and motivation in entrepreneurship, but lack the knowledge and support—do need help.

Lesa Mitchell said that a few years ago, she had been of the opinion that there were no societal problems and that the Kauffman Foundation shouldn’t provide special treatment to women’s groups—but had completely changed her views after reviewing extensive research and data. Women need encouragement, entrepreneurship education, and access to solid mentor networks—particularly in fields in which the deck is stacked against them

The bottom line is that it’s all about encouraging the other half of our population to achieve its potential and thereby boosting  innovation and economic growth. Let’s be aware of the issues and work to fix them. By the way, Astia is holding an event called the We Own It Summit, in New York City on June 8, which brings together key groups together to discuss this. I encourage you to attend. I’ll be moderating the keynote panel, and have no doubt it will be interesting. to attend.

Editor’s note: Guest writer Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University. Follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa



February 21 2010

15:00

A Fix for Discrimination: Follow the Indian Trails


Women, Hispanics and blacks have always been underrepresented in the ranks of the Valley’s tech companies.  A new analysis by the Mercury News shows that from 2000 to 2008, the proportion of women tech workers in Silicon Valley dropped from 25.3% to 23.8%, and that the national numbers dropped from 30% to 27.4%.  In 2008, blacks and Hispanics constituted only 1.5% and 4.7% respectively of the Valley’s tech population — well below national tech-population averages of 7.1% and 5.3%. It seems that the problem I highlighted in my last post on the dearth of tech women is actually getting worse, particularly in Silicon Valley.  And it’s not just the women who are being left out, but also important minority groups.

Is the Valley deliberately keeping these groups out?  I don’t think so.  Silicon Valley is, without doubt, a meritocracy.  In this land, only the fittest survive.  That is exactly the way it should be.  For the Valley’s innovation system to achieve peak performance, new technologies need to constantly obsolete the old, and the world’s best techies need to keep making the Valley’s top guns compete for their jobs.  There is no room for government mandated affirmative action, and our tech companies shouldn’t have to apologize for hiring the people they need.  But at the same time, without realizing it, the Valley may be excluding a significant part of the American population that could be making it even more competitive.  False stereotypes may be getting in the way of greater innovation and prosperity.

Consider the data that I highlighted in my earlier post.  It wasn’t always like this, but girls are now matching boys in mathematical achievement.  In the U.S., 140 women enroll in higher education for every 100 men.  Women earn more than 50% of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and nearly 50% of all doctorates.  The companies they start are more capital-efficient, produce higher revenue, and have lower failure rates than those led by men.  Yet women are still a rare commodity in the ranks of tech CEOs and CTOs.

How do we fix the “hidden biases” and discrimination?  The experts I’ve spoken to have many great ideas.  They suggest we create role models, provide mentorship and financing, and teach entrepreneurship. Foundry group’s Brad Feld says that simple acts of encouragement from parents, teachers, and peers would make a big difference.  Cindy Padnos, of Illuminate Ventures suggested a solution that particularly resonated with me.  She says that women should follow the trail mapped by Indian entrepreneurs (no, not the American natives, but my kind: the immigrants).

Thirty years ago, there were hardly any Silicon Valley firms with Indian-born founders.  UC-Berkeley’s AnnaLee Saxenian documented that 7% of tech companies started in 1980–1998 had an Indian founder.  A survey conducted by my research team at Duke University found that this proportion had increased to 15.5% from 1995 to 2005. My team also determined that in this period, Indians started 6.7% of the nation’s tech and engineering firms.  These are pretty astonishing numbers considering that according to the U.S. census, in 2000 less than 0.7% of the U.S. population and only 6% of the Silicon Valley high-tech workforce was born in India.

I know from personal experience that Indian immigrants didn’t have it easy.  They suffered from the same types of stereotypes as women, blacks, and Hispanics.  Despite having co-founded a software company that we took from startup to $120m in revenue; profitability; and IPO in a record five years, I couldn’t get Research Triangle Park (RTP) VCs to even return my phone calls when I was ready to start my second venture.  I later found out why: “my people” were great at mathematics and made great engineers, but didn’t make great CEOs — “we” didn’t have the necessary management skills, didn’t like diluting our equity ownership by raising venture capital, and couldn’t “fit” into the rough-and-tough American business-management culture.  That’s what one RTP VC told me over lunch, to explain why his firm wasn’t inviting me to pitch my business plan.  They were very busy and had to be selective in who they met.

So how did “my people” rise above ignorance and bigotry?  When the first generation of Indians in Silicon Valley succeeded in shattering the glass ceiling, they decided to help others follow their path.  They realized that they had all surmounted the same obstacles.  And they could reduce the barriers to entry for others behind them by sharing their experiences and opening some doors.

In 1992, a number of highly successful Indian business executives formed a group called The Indus Entrepreneurs (which is now called TiE). Their mission was to give back to the community by fostering entrepreneurship.  They would hold monthly events, teach entrepreneurship, and provide mentoring and support.  And they would facilitate Indian-style matchmaking between entrepreneurs themselves and with investors and corporate partners.  They created two categories of members: a charter member, who took the role of guru, and a regular member, who would be a disciple.  The Guru had to donate time and money (minimum $1500/year) and was not allowed to gain any personal financial benefit.  When disciples achieved success, they would be expected to pass it forward by becoming charter members and helping others behind them.

One of my current research projects is to document and quantify the accomplishments of TiE. But I already know the impact TiE has made. After my lunch with the RTP VC, I cold-called TiE co-founder, Kanwal Rekhi. He told me that my experience was no different from what he and others in Silicon Valley had endured.  Rekhi advised me to look outside the region and to recruit a white male as president of my company.  TiE Charter Member Vinod Khosla advised me to contact VCs in Boston and gave me several introductions. After I followed Rehki’s and Khosla’s advice, it didn’t take long for me to get a term sheet from Greylock Partners (of Boston).  When the word of this got out, the RTP VCs came begging that I take their money.  (I didn’t take their money and after I achieved success, I became founding President of TiE-Carolinas and would usually spend five to seven hours weekly — even when I was really busy — mentoring fledgling entrepreneurs.)

Telle Whitney, President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, says that TiE has done an amazing job and that its work is a great example of a mobilizing, formidable force in making change through networks.  But all networks are not created equal.  To achieve systemic change and have more women and minority-group members as entrepreneurs, we need to involve corporate leaders.  They need to personally be mentoring, proselytizing, and demonstrating by example a different model of investing in women and minority-group entrepreneurs.  There is nothing more powerful within an organization than having its own CTO talk about the importance of, for example, promoting women.

I agree with Telle. Neither Rekhi nor Khosla knew me from Adam, but both readily gave me invaluable advice.  That is the type of mentoring that women, blacks and Hispanics need. In addition to establishing stronger networks for these groups, we need to have the CEOs and CTOs of all of our top companies volunteer their own time to help others follow in their footsteps. They need to do this because this is the best path to diversity and this diversity will enrich their organizations. And we need to have VCs mentor the women and minorities they typically ignore. They need to do this not only for social good, but also for their own survival.

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Here are some links to women and minority networking groups which readers may find useful (If you know of others, please detail these in your comments).

Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

Astia

Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives

National Center for Women & Information Technology

Silicon Valley Black Professionals

Silicon Valley Hispanic Professionals

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers

Springboard Enterprises

The African Network

Women 2.0

Young Women Social Entrepreneurs

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Editor’s note: Guest writer Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University. Follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa.


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