94% of venture capitalists are male…in 2014, only 10% of VC funded startups contained female founders. These statistics were shocking to me. In an industry centered around innovation and creativity, there still exists a large gender disparity.
In an effort to bring attention to this, I recently led an event hosted by the Shea Center team entitled, “Female Founders Panel”. We had the privilege of hosting three incredibly talented female founders from the Boston area this past evening, all of which offered their opinions and advice to fellow women entrepreneurs on campus.
Our first panelist was Katie Martell (@KatieMartell), Founder and CMO of Cintell. She encouraged men to “be allies” and “help break the cycle” of females not being given the appropriate opportunities. She spoke a lot about visibility and the struggle women have with having their voice heard within larger organizations. Katie made some fantastic points, especially about visibility. As students and young adults, we look to role models and leaders for inspiration. Whether it be sports idols, business leaders, political leaders, or even family members, role models play a big role in influencing our passions and future life goals. There is a clear lack of females in the innovation economy and this lack of visibility provides little encouragement for current generations to pursue a career in the startup/tech industry.
Our second panelist was Anita Brearton (@abrearton), Founder and CEO of CabinetM. Anita has a wide range of experience in the startup and marketing industries, which she touched upon in her responses. She made some fantastic points about being an entrepreneur in general, regardless of gender. Most notably, she stressed that you need a cofounder, as the long path of starting a company will require someone to “help pull you up when you are down”. The notion of a two person founding team is not anything new, but I think her take on it is very well put. While most techies stress finding a cofounder as a means to finding someone to complement your skill set, there is a lot to be said about the emotional roller coaster of beginning a company. While I personally do not have any experience launching my own business, I believe any daring life journey is going to be mentally and emotionally taxing. Having someone travel on that journey with you, constantly enduring the ups and downs of your vision, is something really special.
Finally, our last panelist was Angela Jin (@angelajin54), Founder of 1950Collective, and current Junior at Boston College. What her and her cofounder have been able to accomplish is truly incredible. Amidst being students, they founded a merchandising business which has grossed over 100k in revenue and amassed a social media following of over 60k people. This is an incredible feat for anyone, and especially unique for college students. Angela’s passion was very evident through what she had to say about her journey thus far. She recalled multiple times where she needed to “demand respect” as business partners did not take her seriously because she was a women. She even said that initially they had to “fight for press”, as no one thought a female merchandising startup was worth anything. When she interned this summer, she would work from 8am-7pm at her internship, arrive back at her apartment and immediatly begin shipping orders for two hours, finally eat dinner, then go right to bed. This process would be repeated all over again the next morning. She encouraged students to ask themselves prior to starting a business, “How much do you care about it?” Clearly from Angela’s story, she is driven and motivated everyday to make her company succeed. This grit, desire, and passion is a universal trait that separates successful entrepreneurs from those who do not have what it takes. Angela said that her mantra is, “Take no shit”. Despite any microagressions regarding her gender, she has built her success off of proving people wrong. This advice really stuck with me. I think within boundaries of being realistic, ignoring toxic people and using their discouraging words as motivation is a powerful tool for success.
Overall, the event was a tremendous success. I think the main takeaway really is that not only do we need more women entrepreneurs to get involved, but men need to serve as allies and gateways for women entrepreneurs. Not that women can not achieve this on their own, but in a male dominated industry, it is our job to be advocates, friends, and allies for this cause. The innovation economy is booming and has brought us to places unimaginable even 10 years ago. With the inclusion of more women entrepreneurs in the landscape, whether this be through female founders, executives or team members, it will change the dynamics of the startup world. I think the shift is slowly happening, but a lot still needs to be done. It is our job to make sure it happens.