Gender Equality in Entrepreneurship

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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Live Webinar: Applying to an Accelerator (Online)

Join us for a live, interactive Ask Me Anything session to get all your questions answered about applying to an accelerator program! We’ll go over tips for your application, how to best show your product and team, and anything else you’ve been wanting to know!

Answering your questions:

Techstars currently has applications open for 12 programs around the world. Join us in this AMA to learn more and get your application ready by April 9th.

Office Hours: Techstars Kansas City (Phoenix)

Who: Startups looking to apply to Techstars Kansas City

What: Office Hours

When: Feb 22

Where: Phoenix Startup Week, Phoenix, Arizona

Details: Click here to register for office hours!

Office Hours: Techstars Kansas City (Chapel Hill/Durham)

Who: Startups looking to apply to Techstars Kansas City

What: Office Hours

When: Feb 16-17

Where: Chapel Hill/Durham, North Carolina

Details: Click here to register for office hours!

Accelerating the Disruptors

We are excited to launch our new Techstars KC program. I have begun the hunt for the ten companies to begin our inaugural year.  

The rise of digital has eroded boundaries. Today a company can start anywhere in the world. Despite the ever-increasing access opportunities, starting a company is still a lonely, scary journey and the chances of failure are high. To be successful, founders need access to the best global resources to perfect their business model and product, and to ultimately scale the company.  

The Techstars team in Kansas City is looking for founders who are solving big, complex problems. To do this, we want the most promising minds join this program. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs for many years, and I will continue to be a tireless supporter of the companies selected for Techstars Kansas City.

As a city program we are not driven towards a specific vertical. We’re looking for companies that are:

Disintermediating markets. Companies that will eliminate the intermediary in a sector, lower costs, and have a powerful, positive impact in the marketplace.  Great examples are Neighborly and Classpass.

Capable of having a positive impact on the future of infrastructure. This could include (but isn’t limited to) companies that are developing sustainable building materials, sensors collecting new types of data, and business models that will reduce the cost and improve outcomes for humans and the planet.  

Not only will developed economies be rebuilding old infrastructure for the next 20 years, but growing economies will be doubling down on new and better technology. (Sidewalk Labs’ recent Medium post entitled Data is the New Concrete provides excellent context setting for the future.)

Addressing talent, skills and education. We have a huge gap between skills needed in the current and future economy and the availability of talent to address those skills. We have hosted many Teach For America entrepreneurship conferences in Kansas City, and it is apparent that there are not enough solutions to address this problem locally or globally.

I will be gathering experts and mentors from across the country to come to Kansas City and enable successful outcomes for all the companies accepted into Techstars Kansas City.

Techstars is transparent about the companies that have joined our ecosystem, and a proxy for the company’s success can be viewed through the lens of follow-on dollars raised. You can review the recently released summary data on this topic via Mattermark or review even more granular data here.

Techstars Kansas City will be accepting applications until April 9, 2017. Apply here!

I will be hosting office hours in Durham NC on Feb 16/17, Phoenix AZ Feb 22 and Johannesburg, South Africa March 15.

Look to this blog and follow me on Twitter @lesamitchell to receive updates.  

Announcing Techstars Kansas City

We’re excited to announce that we’re deepening our commitment to the rapidly emerging startup ecosystem in Kansas City with the launch of Techstars Kansas City. Applications will open in January 2017. We will select 10 startups and the program will begin in July 2017.

Lesa Mitchell will be the Managing Director and the program will run with a horizontal focus in a manner similar to our other accelerators in Boulder, Boston, Seattle, Austin, New York City, London and Berlin. Many of you should know Lesa as the former VP Innovation and Networks of the Kauffman Foundation and an alumni of Marion Laboratories.

Techstars has deep roots in Kansas City, going back to 2013 when Brad Feld (co-founder of Techstars) purchased a house (Feld Fiber House) for entrepreneurs in the Startup Village, then in 2014 when we ran the Sprint Accelerator with Sprint for three programs. We are excited to continue to support this thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.

As a University of Kansas alum and having grown up in Kansas, I’m personally thrilled with this announcement today. Lesa is officially our third Jayhawk to take the reins at a Techstars program.

If you’re a corporation interested in partnering with Techstars to bring this accelerator to KC, please email If you’re interested in applying to the program, please check out the Application Toolkit.