When you ask about the hottest thing in startups, you may get a lot of answers:
- New media
All of these things are popular, and lots of people are building and innovating in these areas. But, the actual hottest thing in tech startups isn’t an industry. It’s women.
Every conference you go to, you’ll hear the same question: “Where are the women?” Where are they on the VC panels? Why don’t more women-led startups receive funding? Why aren’t more women on the technical side?
There are no easy answers to these questions, because everything is so nuanced. But, the growing emphasis on women in the tech world is undeniable. There’s evidence that the gender gap is closing. Lots of accelerators actively seek women-founded companies. There are more and more initiatives to teach young girls coding and engineering. At our own Everywhere Else Conference, we host a “Kick-Ass Female Founders” panel, where women sound off about starting companies.
And, now, with a new women-only accelerator, women are just getting hotter.
Last week was the opening week of the inaugural cohort of Upstart, a women’s accelerator in Memphis, TN. Four teams survived the application process, and it all kicked off with a swanky reception.
Some people may disagree with a women’s-only accelerator. I admit, I was one of them at first. The thinking is that we don’t want to accidentally build a “separate but equal” ecosystem, with a women’s accelerator becoming a good place for the also-ran’s.
The team at Upstart isn’t going to let that happen, though.
At the opening reception, Start Co co-president Andre Fowlkes addressed this very issue. “Of course we want there to be equal distribution, but there isn’t. This is a first step.”
Mara Lewis is the entrepreneur-in-residence for the accelerator. Though she’s launching her own company in California, she will fly in for about a week each month to meet with the teams and help guide them. She’s always available through phone and email throughout the program. During her absences, the companies will work with the Start Co team to build their businesses and hone their pitches.
I asked Lewis what the difference is a women’s accelerator and a general one would be. Her answer shed a lot of light on the approach Upstart will take to get women ready to launch.
I think the primary difference is more in terms of our tactics. We’re still covering the same points and doing a lot of the same exercises, but we’re going about our critique in a different way…we’re being more aware of what some of the challenges for women are in terms of delivery of the pitch…One of the slides we’re spending a lot of time on right now is the the traction slide. Even though that’s important for all companies, statistically investors will invest in a man based on their potential, whereas for women you have to show past accomplishments, what has been achieved…We really need to show strides. By the end of 90 days, these girls need to have customers, they need to have revenue.
Upstart is the first women’s accelerator of its kind, that focuses on any company led by a woman. But, there is another accelerator in New York that focuses on women.
Women Innovate Mobile is an accelerator that invests in and mentors mobile-first, female-led companies. They see that fewer women receive investment funding, and they see that as a huge opportunity for them. While their teams are always mixed-gender, it is a requirement that a woman be a major stakeholder in the company. Other than that, their program has the same standards as any other accelerator.
Kelly Hoey is the Co-founder and Managing Director of WIM. As one of 5 women listed in Forbes for changing the world of VC/entrepreneurship, she’s a great mentor for the companies WIM accepts. And she expects big things from those companies. She told me over email, “We look for female founders who want to be household names, like Zukerberg, Jobs, or Gates.”
With programs like Upstart and WIM, it shouldn’t be long before we stop asking, “Where are the women?” And as more women choose to start companies and get the first-class mentorship available through these programs, the hottest thing in startups will just keep getting hotter.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the current Upstart and WIM cohorts.