This is the latest in my series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this installment, I talk to an entrepreneur who is working to tear down the walls that have traditionally stopped women entrepreneurs from getting their startups funded.
Every entrepreneur experiences their own set of difficulties and hurdles. That's just the name of the game and it's an aspect of entrepreneurship that can make or break you. There's often no one to back you up if you fall. Things like a lack of paid holidays or spare cash can't intimidate you. There also won't be many days when you can completely step away from your computer or work itself.
If you talk to almost any female entrepreneur, however, you'll learn they generally have to deal with another set of issues simply because of their gender. When I interview them, some even mention the irony in this, given that many run their own businesses in an effort to avoid the glass ceiling and the challenges that corporate America entails. Many female entrepreneurs, like Lisa Wang and Yin Lin of SheWorx, focus on not only breaking glass ceilings but meeting the challenges that act as barriers to women who launch businesses.
There's no question that women in business face many challenges that are different from what men face. In my interviews with women entrepreneurs, they say they've encountered issues in the workplace ranging from breastfeeding to creating the "perfect" airbrushed social media photo. It often seems as though there's someone hovering nearby ready to tell them when they're doing anything wrong.
There are fortunately those who wonder if all that energy spent criticizing each other were channeled into lifting each other up. Wang and Lin are such people.
The Problem is in the Funding
"We see many opportunities for helping women in the entrepreneurial space," Lin says, "18% of those who get funding to start companies are women, and only 0.2% are women of color. Why? It might have something to do with the fact that 94% of startup investors are male."
Wang says according to research, a white male typically gets about $1.3 million toward his start up, when the typical female gets $36,000. Sure, there are already events for women who want to get started, but Wang says they often don't pack the strategic punch of events dominated by male entrepreneurs and male VCs. SheWorx aims to change all that by offering women the chance to share business skills in environments designed for it.
"Our purpose is creating and curating experiences for serious female entrepreneurs with launched products," she says. "What we do is we democratize access to top mentors who are anyone from VC partners to successful entrepreneurs, and we give women a priority seat at the table to meet each other, to meet these mentors, and discuss actionable strategies for building successful and sustainable companies."
SheWorx has been around for a little over a year, and has expanded to five cities including New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, London and Tel Aviv. Participants get together in a variety of ways, from breakfasts to round tables. There's always a specific business topic lined up for each event.
Bringing Investors and Women Entrepreneurs Together
Then there are the SheWorx100 Summits that take a whole new approach to bringing investors and entrepreneurs together. Many summits or conferences place the investors on a pedestal, as though they need to be approached cautiously. SheWorx has them sit down with entrepreneurs at a table to give companies honest assessments about where they stand, and if they are strong candidates for funding. As a result, more than a quarter of the women who go to these summits also get meetings with investors after the summit. Wang says the SheWorx100 Summits will take place again in New York, London, as well as expand to San Francisco in 2017.
The tide is shifting, and an age of increased female entrepreneurship is quickly approaching. Wang says the female entrepreneurs she sees today tend to be a little older. They are women who are past the point of letting the gender roles they grew up with dictate how they manage their lives. But Lin says, millennials like herself are already dealing with gender on their own terms. As a result, there is a bit of an age gap between the two types of women, but it's closing faster than one might think. Look out world; with leaders like Wang and Lin on the front lines, the glass ceilings of funding are shattering down faster than you think.