Things Women Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Indian Entrepreneurs

I’m extremely impressed with Vivek Wadhwa’s posts on TechCrunch.  He’s been blogging periodically for them since last fall and has shown that he’s willing to take on difficult, controversial, and complicated issues and discuss them in data driven and systematic ways.

Recently, Vivek wrote a post titled Silicon Valley: You and Some of Your VC’s have a Gender Problem that resulted from a research project he did with the National Center for Women & Information Technology (I’m chairman).  I thought the post was excellent.  The comments, however, were really enlightening to me.  The amount of anger and hostility, especially irrational attacks, surprised me.  Well – I guess it only surprised me a little – it mostly disappointed me.

After that article, Vivek sent me an email with the following questions “why did you originally get involved with NCWIT” and “how would you fix the problem of the dearth of women entrepreneurs?”.  The first one was easy – I pointed him at a post I wrote in September 2005 titled Why the NCWIT Board Chair is a ManI then spent some time thinking  and emailing with Lucy Sanders *the CEO of NCWIT), about what we have learned to address the question of “how would you fix the problem of the dearth of women entrepreneurs?”  My goal was to boil my answer down into a very simple set of suggestions, as NCWIT has several programs in their Entrepreneurial Alliance that address this problem.  In my experience, a simple answer is much better than a complex one, especially for people who haven’t yet thought hard about the problem but are interested in it.

I came up with two specific things that I’ve learned over the past five years and have incorporated into my brain:

1. We simply need more technical women in the software industry.  If there were more, there would be more starting software and Internet companies.

2. Existing entrepreneurs and VCs can help a lot by encouraging women to become entrepreneurs and then supporting them when they take the plunge.   It turns out that the simple act of encouragement (from parents, teachers, peers) is hugely impactful across the entire education and entrepreneurial pipeline so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it is also important in the startup phase.

At some level it’s that simple.  The implementation and execution of these two (related) concepts is really difficult.  So, when I read Vivek’s post this morning titled A Fix for Discrimination: Follow the Indian Trails I realized he had once again totally nailed it.  The example of how Indian entrepreneurs, first as individuals, and then through TiE, became a force in entrepreneurship through the US and the world, is a great one.  And it’s an excellent analogy for women (and other groups that feel discrimination in the entrepreneur ecosystem.)

Once again, the early comments were disappointing in their anger and hostility.  However, given some of the stuff I’ve heard over the past five years through my involvement in NCWIT, they weren’t a surprise to me this time.

  • http://twitter.com/entrep_thinking @entrep_thinking

    Brad – Nice timing – just had a twitter exchange on this very issue [see the key players below] Would you be interested in launching a capacity-building program??

    Recently, I've seen various places but especially in Europe – training programs (boot camps, etc.) specifically for women. What's been interesting is that one untapped market is taking successful non-tech women entrepreneurs & turning them into tech entrepreneurs! (After all, you don't need to be a super tech geek to run a tech biz, eh?) Why not start with women who already know how to run a biz & coach them up? (And they're a lot easier to market to) I was intrigued that in Europe, they keep these programs well below the radar screen…

    Nonetheless, I've been talking up this idea both around here & nationally among my egghead peers – growing that capacity seems a no-brainer.

    However, there are several excellent programs out there who are in the business of helping women to take control of their lives through entrepreneurship – @Amilya – Amilya Antonetti (who cashed out of a green venture, Soapworks), Jen Groover & Launchers Cafe [@jengroover] and other entrepreneurs helping grow women entrepreneurs in other ways(@Rieva – Rieva Lesonsky, former editor of Inc.; Jennifer Walsh, @behindthebrand; Joan Koerber-Walker, former prez of Arizona's entrepreneur org, @JoanKW and others like @kdpartak @ysnjen NAWBO and, if I've omitted any of my friends, sorry)

    Brad, there is some immense talent & experience that could be tapped — and we'd love to pilot it in Idaho (self-serving, I know) AND this is something that seed funding should be easy to raise! Want in?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/brad_bernth4780 brad_bernth4780

    Related to this topic, NCWIT, ATLAS and Silicon Flatirons are co-sponsoring an Entrepreneurs Unplugged on Monday night (2/22) with Krista Marks. Event kicks off at 6:15 p.m. at ATLAS in Boulder, Colorado.

    Krista was co-founder of Kerpoof which had a favorable exit to Disney. Lucy Sanders and ATLAS' Jill Van Matre will co-moderate. The primary grist of discussion will be on Krista's career and how she helped build Kerpoof into a success. But a subthread will address issues related to providing a better pipeline for women into the high tech entrepreneurial community.

    Registration is free — available at:

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/brad_bernth4780 brad_bernth4780
  • http://intensedebate.com/people/James_Mitchell James_Mitchell

    Karen, there has been a ton of literature written about team sports and how they cultivate teamwork. The similarities with business are striking — a bunch of people get together, they probably do not each know other, there usually is leadership (quarterback, coach), there is a common goal, you want to beat the other team. Great training for business in a lot of ways. The operative word is team, individual sports do not provide the same training.

    I think males are more competitive, on average. They are more likely to want to win, to beat another team, and that is one reason more boys play team sports than girls. I also find that males (boys and men) take competition less personally, you fight to the death on the football field and then you go out and have a beer with the other team. Girls and women often take things too personally, they get mad over some very small issues (at least issues that seem small to men), issues that guys could not care less about.

    James Mitchell
    <a href="http://www.jmitchell.me” target=”_blank”>www.jmitchell.me

  • http://twitter.com/apsinkus @apsinkus

    It is sad to see some of the comments in the mentioned articles. I guess we have not bred out the ignorance out of our brains. Garbage like that is the reason I do not allow anonymous comments on my blog. If you want to be a bigot, you will have to take responsibility for it (and even in that case I will not let you dirty my blog with your idiocity).

    Ever since I published an article on the same topic "Time to end the frat house culture! We need more women in our midst." http://leanstartups.com/time-to-end-the-frat-hous… , I've had to erase bigoted comments every couple of days (and my blog is not even as popular as Brad's). Maybe we, white males, are just intimidated by ability of others to be as successful as us.

  • http://www.doink.com Karen

    Brad, I was thinking that one way to answer how to get more women into entrepreneurship might be to look at the backgrounds of successful women entrepreneurs & CEOs… to determine if there is a common trait to be cultivated. One of those traits that has been getting attention is the number of women who have backgrounds in athletics. I certainly dont mean to simplify a complicated issue, but would like to share one view. Entrepreneurs must have a drive to succeed and this often starts young and continues if cultivated. Thankfully sports for women (& men) is a wonderful place to cultivate this drive. It doesnt happen overnight, but over time, after a series of successes & failures. Athletics teaches life skills critical to entrepreneurship& the importance of perseverance, tenacity, discipline & love of competition. As a young woman athlete & now a serial entrepreneur, I recognize what sports taught me& the importance of a singular focus and of discipline&.that courage learned over time enables confidence to take risks&.& as much can be learned from failure as from success. But most importantly what sports teaches, especially a team sport, is that one cant go it alone, but must surround oneself with a team of talented people. I am extremely optimistic that with the tremendous increase of women in sports now, we are cultivating an amazing generation of women entrepreneurs.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/James_Mitchell James_Mitchell

    Brad, I would be curious to see the following data:

    1. Take all of the VC funds you have been involved with. Of the companies you funded, what percentage of them had a women CEO? What percentage had one or one women as a member of the founding management team?

    2. Same question as above for the seed investments you have done.

    One issue that should be discussed more. I don't know one VC who does not have a strong preference for funding serial entrepreneurs, particularly ones they dealt with previously. Such a preference will mean your preference pool is essentially all male, in most cases.

    James Mitchell
    http://www.jmitchell.me

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/James_Mitchell James_Mitchell

    Karen, there has been a ton of literature written about team sports and how they cultivate teamwork. The similarities with business are striking — a bunch of people get together, they probably do not each know other, there usually is leadership (quarterback, coach), there is a common goal, you want to beat the other team. Great training for business in a lot of ways. The operative word is team, individual sports do not provide the same training.

    I think males are more competitive, on average. They are more likely to want to win, to beat another team, and that is one reason more boys play team sports than girls. I also find that males (boys and men) take competition less personally, you fight to the death on the football field and then you go out and have a beer with the other team. Girls and women often take things too personally, they get mad over some very small issues (at least issues that seem small to men), issues that guys could not care less about.

    James Mitchell
    http://www.jmitchell.me

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    My guess is that it’s between 10% and 20%.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/James_Mitchell James_Mitchell

    Well, you didn't exactly break it out, but that seems like a high number.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Yeah – I thought about it a little hard.  When I think about it harder, it’s actually probably 5% – 10%.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/James_Mitchell James_Mitchell

    What is the breakout in terms of women CEOs vs. women that are part of the founding management team?

    And what is the breakout in terms of your own personal investments vs. your fund investments? The reason I ask is that your fund investments have been solely tech deals, while I have the impression you have made some personal investments that were based more on "this is a local business that I like."

    Any differences you've noticed in women CEOs? Are they more collaborative, better team players?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I’m not sure there’s a material difference between the CEOs vs. member of the founding team.  I’ve had a few women CEOs, a few VP Engineering, and a few VP Marketing as founders.I also don’t think there is a material difference between fund investments and my personal investments.  And most of my personal investments have been tech – only a few random ones.

  • http://traveldragon.com Kathy Dragon

    Excellent post and most relevant as a woman entrepreneur only recently stepping into the technology field. We are fortunate in Boulder to have so much support, however, as I am neither male or in my 20's it can still be intimating. The ATLAS and Silicon Flatirons presentations are incredibly helpful. I'll be there tonight to hear Krista and was specifically interested based on her background. Thanks Brad.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I’m not sure what you mean by “capacity building program.”  We are doing a ton about this via the National Center for Women & Information Technology (http://www.ncwit.org) – take a look.

  • http://womennovation.wordpress.com/ Francine

    Hi Brad-
    Some odd assorted thoughts on your blog and reactions to it.
    1) Providing encouragement to girls and women is critical. Interestingly, based on a research project I'm currently doing on women innovators (not the same as entrepreneurs but related)- support by fathers at an early age appears to be a particularly powerful influence.

    Francine http://twitter.com/womennovation

    2) For readers who are interested in a well-researched paper on the untapped potential of women entrepreneurs in the US- and the analogy of women in India- they can download Cindy Padnos' white paper at http://www.illuminate.com/whitepaper

    3) In support of @entrep_thinking's comment that you don't need to be a technogeek to be a tech entrepreneur-: I recently met with with several women who founded high tech firms, 3 of whom had non-technical backgrounds: Gina Bianchini of Ning, Anu Shukla of Offerpal (& formerly MyBuys and Rubric) and Karen Watts of Corefino. In each case they partnered with or hired the technical expertise they needed.

    Thanks for stimulating some good discussion on the issue.

  • Ray

    Hmm this posting is consistent with data I saw in a recent whitepaper written by Cindy Padnos at Illuminate Ventures. (Download at http://www.illuminate.com/whietepaper)

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  • http://www.helloairjordan.com/Air-Jordan-3-III/Air-Jordan-3-III-All-Black-Mid-Boots Jordan 3 All Black

    Take all of the VC funds you have been involved with. Of the companies you funded, what percentage of them had a women CEO?

  • http://twitter.com/siberianfruit Deena Varshavskaya

    I don’t understand why any of this is a problem. Any entrepreneur will deal with obstacles, some of which will be really difficult to overcome. Things are not equal for male entrepreneurs. There’s probably some gender bias (perhaps I’m not aware of its magnitude), but if you can’t just deal with that as yet another obstacle to overcome, can you really be a successful entrepreneur? You can also argue the opposite. For example, as a woman, you’re likely to stand out in a crowd of men and it’s easier for you to connect to and network with other women.

    On a personal level, I am yet to experience a gender bias as an entrepreneur.

  • Wayne Tarken

    It’s really more of a labyrinth then a glass ceiling as more women get through especially in the technical areas. More just need to learn http://www.ceowomensclub.com how to navigate their own way through. organizations need to do a better job of paving the way but women alone must make it on their own. Plus we need to get more young girls interested in technology in middle school so they may choose careers in this space latter on

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