We know women are underrepresented in entrepreneurship and venture capital. Only 17 percent of founders of startups are women. Women receive about 2 percent of venture capital financing. Even at Techstars, only 19 percent of participants in 2016 were women. Women start companies with half the capital that as men.
There is a new group trying to do something about it: FemaleFounder.org. The women involved are VC partners in New York, Boston, and Silicon Valley who are holding office hours for founders at various stages of funding to begin opening the door for more women.
We borrowed the same model to host a Women Founders Office Hours in Kansas City last week. Nine women investors attended to meet with over twenty women founders for speed-meetings. Each woman founder was able to meet with three to five investors.
In cities like San Francisco and New York City, there are enough female potential tech founders that the office hours have an application process. We left ours open in Kansas City. With little competition in the middle of the United States, we are hoping that by keeping this open, we are increasing competition. By finding the ideas in the midwest and connecting them to mentors early on, we have the opportunity to make their ideas bigger and more feasible.
The event made me reflect on my life prior to Techstars. I was a researcher studying diversity in entrepreneurship. I think back to interviewing numerous accelerators about the diversity of their founders and hearing over and over how challenging it was to find women founders. We would share recommendations for different ways they could recruit and attract women: use inclusive language, schedule the program so that women with children are able to participate fully (no meetings after 6:00 pm!), recruit a diverse network of women mentors and ask them to refer women founders, and so on. Still, after having implemented all of those tactics the first year, we were unable to find women CEOs for our class. This year we are doubling our efforts to be proactive in finding women founders.
Not to say that we did not love all of our CEOs in our first program, but it was personally quite challenging to not have any women CEOs in our class. We talk about diversity nearly everyday in our office, and not being able to see that reflected in the first class was not easy.
When we are off program, we consider it our responsibility as a city program to help elevate our city the other months of the year. Perhaps events such as the Women Founders Office Hours is a new approach to begin broadening the net to finding a diverse group of founders.
Can we get more cities to host Women Founders Office Hours? Let me know if I can help share what worked and ways we could have improved!