People Helping People
As we celebrated the kickoff of our Startup Women initiative at SXSWi this year, I had the pleasure of meeting with female founders and many individuals who are spearheading efforts to encourage and support women in entrepreneurship. Conversations with these individuals were optimistic and eager; efforts were largely focused on inspiring others, telling stories, and working closely with men - not segregating actions into "female" or "male" categories.
In an interview with Lesa Mitchell of The Kauffman Foundation, she remarked that efforts supporting women are simply not possible in the long-term without the leadership and support of men. Earlier that same day, I spoke with a good friend who founded her own co-working space. She said, "It should never be just about women helping women -- just people helping people." This idea of a shared effort between all types of people is exactly the tone that we hope to strike with Startup Women. Although "Women" is a part of the title for this initiative, it should be clear through our efforts that the end goal is collaboration, mutual support, and optimistic action between all types of leaders. The world is not homogeneous, and neither are strong startup communities. Simply put, success in action for this initiative looks a lot like genuine people working hard and supporting and celebrating one another.
Diversity is a natural component to creativity and innovation. Without varying perspectives and experiences, true innovation eventually comes to a standstill. As UP Global strives to support 1,000 thriving communities around the world by 2016, we are cognizant that a critical piece of this progress rests in diversity at the local level. To support our Community Leaders as they engage with new audiences to build more diverse experiences in their own backyards, we are providing resources for localized Startup Weekend Women's Edition events, which will begin in at least ten target cities in the U.S. and five abroad. One of the best byproducts of these events from the perspective of the Community Leader is the experience of reaching new audiences that might otherwise not engage with an UP Global program in their area. Male attendees at these events should also look forward to the experience of working with individuals who offer fresh perspectives and new solutions -- and ultimately, whole communities can enjoy the strengthening results of diverse entrepreneurial events and inclusion in the long run.
Prior to joining Startup Weekend in August of 2012, entrepreneurship was not something on my radar. I had never once considered the possibility of venturing out to start my own company. In the relatively short time I've been with UP Global, my perspective and sense of sense of possibility has expanded significantly because I have worked with so many inspiring women and men who call themselves entrepreneurs. As I heard more stories of individuals experiencing entrepreneurship through our programs, I was afforded a close look at what it would be like to be an entrepreneur, and many of these individuals happened to be women. Their stories were always particularly inspiring for me, and I began to envision my own entrepreneurial journey for the first time. One quote that I return to often is "you can't be what you can't see." Although simple, our efforts to feature and celebrate female entrepreneurs will ideally generate the type of visibility that will inspire many more women to experience and go after entrepreneurial ventures. I'm personally confident that by focusing our efforts on positive storytelling and visibility as a critical cornerstone of our Startup Women initiative, we will see more girls and women begin to consider, try out, and own the role of "entrepreneur."