"Being an entrepreneur was always inside me. The will to create and take chances - that won't ever end. Today I know I will always be an entrepreneur because it feels too good than playing it safe."--Bianca de la Garza
A 17-year network veteran, Bianca de la Garza struck out on her own in 2014 to launch her own media company, starting with a signature 30-minute Saturday evening show hosted by the aspiring media mogul herself. Launching a media company in the digital age and taking on the boys of late night? Not a small challenge for any entrepreneur regardless of their past track-record of high performance. But Bianca is not alone in her willingness to take big chances. Increasingly, women who have achieved career success are leaping off the corporate ladder to build something new--right about the time when corporate convention says they should be savoring the stability their track record has awarded them.
Why is the full participation of women in high growth entrepreneurial ventures important? Simple: economic growth. If women's entry in to the labor force was the tailwind for long-term economic growth in the 20th Century, it is a safe assumption that moving women's paltry 10% representation in high-growth firms will be the tailwind for growth in this century. As the authors of the recent Kauffman Foundation funded report "Sources of Economic Hope: Women's Entrepreneurship" note early on in their findings, women in high-growth entrepreneurship isn't a nice-to-have social equality issue:
This is an economic growth issue, and to the extent that half of the American population and more than half of our educated population are not fully participating in the engine of growth and innovation, it is an opportunity to avoid the "secular stagnation" that is now expected for the American economy.
Launching her big media company vision with a lean, startup mentality, Bianca in 5 months has scaled her regional late night show "Bianca Unanchored" nationally, with "Bianca" airing in 9 markets--all fueled by her initial nimble scrappy production team. Broadcasting pioneer and entertainment entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey directly employs an estimated 650 people. Hopefully, Bianca scales her vision and media company to do the same or more.
So what about the women entrepreneurs who like Bianca are pioneering this trend that is so essential for the country's future economic well-being? Why these women and why is now the time for them? To answer this, I sought the opinions of three women at the forefront of this movement, who are also championing other women's entrepreneurial ventures:
- Deborah Jackson, a Wall Street veteran (her career started at Goldman Sachs in 1980), founded PlumAlley.co in 2012 to increase the economic strength of female founded companies and to provide greater access to capital.
- Jessica Eaves Matthews, America's Advocate for Women in Business, an award-winning entrepreneur, intellectual property & business lawyer and co-author of "Wonder Women: How Western Women Will Save the World".
- Jeanne Sullivan, venture capitalist with 30+ years of technology investing experience under her belt. Jeanne co-founded Starvest Partners and is an advisor to eProvStudios, a venture that drives senior and intergenerational entrepreneurship.
On the what's different for women now, three major hurdles to independent economic participation have been eliminated: cost, information and isolation. My conversation with Deborah jumped right to the practical: it costs less now to start a company than ever before. There are a multitude of online tools which enable entrepreneurs to incorporate a company and launch a website on the same day. As Deborah noted "you need less money to start, you can leverage technology and you can find your peeps via the internet/social networks." The fact that entrepreneurism is very "in" also means there is more support offline than ever before. As Jeanne noted in her email exchange with me "the number of incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces as well as angel groups and meet-ups has increased exponentially in the past 5-years and success breeds success as we build communities in shared interests and tech centers throughout the U.S."
For many women, cost and ease of incorporation aren't the only reasons for pursuing their own venture. The Great Recession which started in 2008 was a wake-up call for many employees (including those who kept their jobs) that lifetime employment and job security is no longer a given. If doing good work is not enough to ensure a paycheck and lifetime employment is not longer the brass ring we're seeking, then the question becomes introspective: what is it that you want to achieve during your productive professional years? Before she was an entrepreneur, Jessica was a high-powered lawyer pushing some heavy paper as the head of litigation and compliance for Paul Allen (MSFT). Jessica, like many successful executive women, was looking for more meaning in her work:
"Women are taking risks for the same reason, but also (and more importantly), there is a movement to not only be financially independent, but to find passion and fulfillment in their work. I left my comfy world of top law firms and corporate law firms in Seattle in order to create something bigger - to make sure that my life had meaning and that I left a legacy for my daughter and future generations. I also wanted to leave the world a better place than I found it. After 12-13 years pushing paper for lawsuits or wealthy bosses, I realized that I could not sit by and make that my legacy. I had to take action. I think many women are coming to that conclusion after years in the workforce trying to be successful in the "old, male-dominated" way (with the absolute devotion to the bottom line and the whole "it's not personal, it's business" mantra). It is worth the risk for these women to have a shot at creating something great and something fulfilling for themselves."
For Jeanne another critical underlying dynamic for women starting businesses is the convergence of technology and women's experience:
"From fashion, health care, medical breakthroughs and information to consumer products to ecommerce (let's not forget the power of the purse), the Internet has created convergence for many industries where women have such strong knowledge, experience and talents".
As the Kauffman report notes, women's active participation in high growth entrepreneurship is key to our nation's future economic health, but I had to ask Deborah, Jessica and Jeanne whether for many women, the enthusiasm for entrepreneurship was a temporary fad or a permanent employment mindset shift? If corporate America suddenly starts creating jobs again, will our entrepreneurial visions fade in favor of paycheck assurance? Based on their responses, Deborah, Jessica and Jeanne don't think women and entrepreneurship is a short-lived economic shift.
"This is permanent but it will transform and iterate. Entrepreneurship has always been around but today it is different and it will continue to evolve. It is still more open than corporate America for most."--Deborah
"I have been a part of this growing movement for almost a decade now, so I can say with confidence that this is not a fad. I can't say that the focus will forever be on entrepreneurship, as our culture and economy seem to be cyclical, but I do think it won't end any time soon, and some amazing changes, innovation and progress is going to happen as a result."--Jessica
"Entrepreneurism is a key driver to economic growth both in the U.S. and globally. Ask any roomful of seniors or business school grads.... the majority wish to start businesses soon or in time. These pools of talented entrepreneurs are making a difference." - Jeanne
Women entrepreneurs are and will continue to make a difference to American's bottom-line (GDP). And that's not a nice trend but an economic health indicator to keep your eye on.