Thriving in the startup scene as a woman is still, frustratingly, much more difficult than it should be. You’ll get a fraction of the investment dollars men do, you have to face sexism both blatant and subtle, and every once in a while you get to hear a successful male entrepreneur call you "like men, only cheaper."

None of that has stopped women entrepreneurs, of course, and many have found New York City to be one of the best places to start a business. More than 665,000 of the 9 million U.S. women-owned businesses are in or around Silicon Alley, making New York the metropolitan area with the greatest concentration of women entrepreneurs in the U.S.

"There’s always going to be sexism," but the large network of women entrepreneurs in New York "creates more access," says Meika Hollender, co-founder of Sustain, which makes fair-trade condoms and markets them with an emphasis on women's reproductive health.

I interviewed Hollender as part of a panel discussion last week at Inc.’s Annual Women’s Summit. Joining our conversation were Miki Agrawal, co-founder of Thinx, which makes fashionable underwear for menstruating women to wear as an alternative to tampons and pads, and Lori Cheek, who started the dating service Cheekd.

(They spoke at about the same time that, halfway around the world, Australian entrepreneur Evan Thornley was unwittingly demonstrating some of the obliviousness that women in the tech and startup worlds persistently face. While discussing the gender pay gap, Thornley chose to illustrate his point with a remarkably unfortunate slide headlined: "Women: Like men, only cheaper.")     

During our lively, wide-ranging conversation, Agrawal, Hollender and Cheek discussed topics from the social missions underlying their businesses to their experiences with fundraising and new financing platforms, including Kickstarter. "What I love about crowdfunding is, it’s a proof of concept," Agrawal said.

Cheek, who’s in the middle of revamping her business, also discussed the silver lining to her unsuccessful appearance on "Shark Tank." The show’s exposure means that "I feel like I’ve got an audience of people that are cheering for me to succeed," she said.

She also urged New York City schools to encourage more girls to take coding classes, since she’s found that "looking for a female technical co-founder is like searching for a needle in a haystack."

Watch our entire conversation in the video below.

Published on: Sep 26, 2014