BAIA organized an inspiring event on January 19th, hosted at the offices of Cooley LLP in San Francisco and sponsored by Studio Design Solutions. Enjoying appetizers catered by C’Era una Volta, a sold-out, diverse audience participated in a spirited debate about a hot topic: Women entrepreneurs in growth businesses: why so few? Why are men much more likely than women to be entrepreneurs?
Despite representing the majority at colleges and universities and despite their increased participation in science and engineering, women are still underrepresented among business leaders especially in high tech and other high growth fields. In addition, there seems to be a disconnect between opportunities and resources in equity funding for high-growth, women-owned/led businesses.
Wendy Beecham, moderator of the panel and CEO of Watermark, an organization whose mission is to connect women leaders in a manner that leads to purposeful, meaningful, and enduring relationships, and amplifies their collective professional community, tried to capture the different perspectives among the panelists. "Women in our association are accomplished, confident, but they don’t get access to capital. Why are women out of the loop?"
Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia (a non profit global organization with a distinct focus and mission – to propel women’s participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, fueling innovation and driving economic growth) brought her professional experience to the discussion with an important question: even though women make up more than half of the students in technology and are receiving Phds from major colleges around the country, less than 10% get access to capital. Why is it it they have more trouble getting access to funding? One explanation some of our panelists emphasize is the lack of situational confidence: "walking in a room with mostly business men can be intimidating".
For Laura Ventura, VP of Marketing and Co-Founder of CumuLogic, with 15 years experience in high tech marketing, being one of the few women entrepreneurs is actually an advantage because "men remember you, because there are just a few of us, such a small group. In my last meeting there were 5 women versus 80 men. Getting exposure to large companies is vital, being in the right place at the right time is the key." Another reason is networking: "women tend to network with women and men tend to network with men" says Sharon Vosmek, "it plays out on the golf course, in the boardroom and it is certainly playing out in the world of high-growth entrepreneurship."
Certainly women tend to be found more in small business groups where their connections are based on longevity and trust, which is seen not as a limit but as a strength by Joanna Rees, Founder of VSP Capital (a San Francisco based venture capital firm). "Venture capitalists work together with entrepreneurs. Both have the same goal: go out there to the community and raise money. There are some potential avenues for getting capital, and Non profit organizations like the National Center for Women and Information Technology, Astia and Springboard Enterprises, are trying to raise awareness by mentoring business women and introducing them to investors. When you don’t have a large amount of funding for your projects- continues Joanna-, work together with venture capitalists on the business plan and ways to source more capital". Don’t be intimidated by the networking process, "stand out and be different, thinking always: I deserve to be here." What about the difference between the US vs the European model? It seems that European entrepreneurs have a hard time getting access to capital as well: first of all European networking is full of individuals who are skeptical, plus the entrepreneurs don’t articulate their pitch properly with investors: "there’s no access point if you don’t know the venture capital language."
Silvia Console Battilana, co-founder of Auctionomics ( a software and consulting company for high stake auctions around the world) and just recently returned from a 3-week stint in Kenya, teaching entrepreneurship to African women, brings the European prospective with her experience in Italy and Africa. In Silvia's words, "I have been a student and a professor both in American and Italian universities. The entrepreneurship culture is not promoted in Italian universities. You can see it immediately looking at the relationship between the professor and the students. In Italy the professor is on a pedestal and is transfering knowledge to the the students. In the USA the relationship between the professor and the students is interactive and the knowledge flows in both directions". She also pointed out how in some parts of Europe "if you have a quick success they think you stole, and cannot be honest. Here in the Silicon Valley, it is different: a confident woman can have great power. If you have capabilities and ideas, there are no gender limitations."