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Today is International Women’s Day, and our program is actively meeting with potential companies for our first class, so what better time to talk about this problem/opportunity of finding women-led tech companies?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written and researched on the topic of women in entrepreneurship. Now, I’m taking that research to practice.

One of the reasons I joined Techstars after studying diversity in entrepreneurship and accelerator programs is because I believe Techstars is a socially aware and self aware company. We are thinking about this issue and talking about it everyday, hence our Diversity Commitment for the White House Demo Day.

It is absolutely possible for accelerators to be gender-equal, so long as the program is (a) representative of the targeted population and (b) intentional in their recruitment efforts.

Our program, Techstars Kansas City, is led by two women, and we wake up and go to sleep thinking about this. Yet, finding women founders can be tough. Maybe we aren’t looking in the right places or exploring all of our options.

Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs

In Labor after Labor, I wrote about the need for startup culture to embrace balance for moms and the overall need for a societal shift in thinking about women and moms at work, and the particular challenges they face.   

  • The need for better role models and access to mentors who look like them
  • Family dynamics, and the “second-shift” for childcare
  • Financing and how the gender pay gap and personal and professional networks limit women’s ability to raise startup capital
  • Cognitive biases and the stereotypical expectations of entrepreneurs

Beyond the challenges, women are well equipped to be entrepreneurs! They can do more with less. Research suggests that women grow revenue faster while raising less money. Further studies explain that women work better in teams, which is essential for startups, being that they are more successful when there is a founding team.

Challenges for Women in Accelerators

Never shy to be the contrarian, I’ve had my critiques about how accelerators are hard for women and moms, because:

  • Women are less likely to relocate for their jobs than their husbands (and often times accelerator programs require temporary relocation)
  • The hours are not always mom-friendly in the traditional sense of mom-responsibilities
  • Role models, mentors and investors cannot connect to their particular challenges as women and/or moms when they do not look like them

Facing the Challenges Head on

One of my favorite lines from a paper by Candy Brush states:

“Perhaps the most fundamental contribution of women’s entrepreneurship research lies in acknowledging and documenting that entrepreneurship is not a gender-neutral phenomenon.”

Not a gender-neutral phenomenon. Entrepreneurship is not gender-equal! I believe in the work of accelerators, but also believe we have a certain responsibility to be very intentional with women entrepreneurs. Accelerator programs must make it a priority to proactively reach out to them and recognize their differences by:

  • Having women run accelerators
  • Going out to women founders and directly meeting with them
  • Using inclusive language
  • Having mentors, role models and investors that are women

It’s International Women’s Day, and we know how much work we have to do this year for women everywhere. So long as less than 3 percent of VC-funded companies have women CEOs, and we can almost count on our hands how many black women-owned companies have received more than $1 million in venture capital financing (11 to be exact), we’ll be working.

What are you doing to support women in entrepreneurship, today and everyday? Let me know, I would love to hear it! Are you a part of a women-led startup? Feel free to reach out to me to connect!

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Alex Krause Alex Krause
Alex Krause is a program manager for Techstars Kansas City. She was formerly a program officer for the Kauffman Foundation where she led the research agenda for women and diversity in entrepreneurship. She has spoken on women’s entrepreneurship at events from Nigeria to Silicon Valley and the White House.