Lately, it seems like women tech entrepreneurs and their companies have a higher profile than ever. Yahoo hiring new President and CEO Marissa Mayer away from Google was consistently one of 2012's top news stories. Avis recently acquired Zipcar, the short-term car rental business co-founded by Robin Chase, for $491 million, while Google snapped up social media marketing software provider Wildfire, co-founded by Victoria Ransom. Companies founded by women -- everything from online ticketing service EventBrite to women-geared financial planning platform LearnVest -- are infiltrating (if not dominating at times) tech lists. Check out Mashable's "44 Female Founders Every Entrepreneur Should Know."
According to a June 2012 Forbes article, "Women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years and . . . will create over half of the 9.72 million new small business jobs expected to be created by 2018." The increasing success of high growth tech companies such as TaskRabbit (an app/website to hire reliable people for odd jobs) and Lockerz (online photo sharing/e-commerce) -- and as the fact that in 2009, "17 of 19 high-tech IPOs had at least one female officer" -- takes these overall positive trends in female small business ownership to the next level.
Don't get me wrong, this group still face many hurdles: a disproportionate lack of capital, a dearth of women starting scalable companies and still, relatively few women in leadership positions. Still, if the increasing pool of strong female founders I'm seeing here in the Midwest is any indication, there's cause to feel optimistic about the ability of women to be even bigger players in high growth entrepreneurship in the not-so-distant future -- and it's a byproduct of several things.
"[Participating in Springboard's LifeScience Venture Forums] was a terrific opportunity for me to network with female entrepreneurs, both first time CEOs and more experienced CEOs," says Maria Bennett, CEO of SPR Therapeutics, a Cleveland-based medical device company that recently raised $5 million in Series A financing to commercialize pain therapies based on its nerve stimulation technology. "Now it's a family. I'm able to reach out to the members of Springboard -- whether they're alums of Springboard or they're actually people that are working there -- and they offer different opportunities to me, whether it's fundraising or getting in touch with others."
There's also Ohio-based organizations such as Bad Girl Ventures -- a non-profit offering classes, networking opportunities and low-interest loans to female entrepreneurs in Cleveland and Cincinnati -- and the woman-started (and -friendly) SoMoLend, a locally-focused investment portal for small businesses, help fund the state's most promising women. Women helping other women creates quite an impressive domino effect: That same HBR piece cites a Kauffman Foundation study which observed "70 percent of women venture capitalists were in partnerships that had closed deals with women-led companies."
Northeast Ohio's health care community as well has plenty of established women entrepreneurs in charge in addition to Maria Bennett. One of the more notable faces is Dr. Charu Ramanathan, Founder & Chief Scientific Officer of CardioInsight, the developer of non-invasive electrocardiographic mapping technology, which closed a $7.5 million Series C financing round last year. Regardless of sector, as more high-profile women attract capital and become successful, they inspire more women to take the entrepreneurship leap and follow in their footsteps.
It's important to remember, however, that the goal of any of these initiatives is not to create startup communities with women in one silo and men in another. Instead, doing women-specific outreach and forming women-only programs is done with the idea of giving them the tools they need to become integrated into the community. Creating a diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem is the most effective way to enact positive change in a community -- and it only makes sense that women should be at the forefront of any development efforts.
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