Google Backs Effort To Lift Number of Female Entrepreneurs

By Kristen V. Brown
San Francisco Chronicle.

At UpWest Labs, a 2-year-old Palo Alto accelerator program for Israeli entrepreneurs, co-founder Shuly Galili quickly recognized a pattern in her applicant pool.

“The number of male versus female applicants was really skewed,” she said. “We quickly realized how much of a gap exists.”

UpWest is one of 40 companies that will receive funding from Google’s entrepreneurship arm in a new push to establish more female-led tech companies.

The program, #40Forward, will dole out a total of $1 million to companies that have pledged to increase female participation in their own programs by 25 percent over the next year.

While there is a vast gender gap throughout the tech sector, it is particularly pronounced among entrepreneurs: Women start only about 3 percent of tech companies, according to research by the Kauffman Foundation published last year.

Google’s efforts come as the industry’s gender problem has received increased attention of late, with recent data showing that women at the top can improve a company’s revenue, and female industry leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer pushing the conversation publicly.

Google’s aim, said Bridgette Beam, the manager for global entrepreneurship at Google for Entrepreneurs, is to drill down to the root causes of what’s keeping more women from entering the startup world.

The effort extends from Silicon Valley to Senegal, with about three-fourths of the companies receiving Google funding located outside of the U.S.

“We should stop asking just ‘Why are women not showing up?’ ” she said, “but rather why programs are not reaching 50 percent of the population?”

Beam pointed to StartupWeekend, which will participate in the Google program, as a good example of how companies should reassess their approach to attracting women.

StartupWeekend hosts events around the world where entrepreneurs gather with the intent of launching a company over 54 hours (Friday night counts as part of the weekend). Beam said organizers now mainly publicize the event through tech blogs and industry publication Startup Digest.

“They need to just get the word out more broadly as women are interested.”

She suggested, for example, even advertising somewhere like Glamour magazine.

As part of the Google program, StartupWeekend will expand its StartupWeekend Women editions and look for new ways to market to women.

At UpWest Labs, Galili said the company will use Google financing to start a female entrepreneurship program.

The program will partner with organizations in Israel to encourage women to apply to the four-month accelerator, establish mentors for their female entrepreneurs that help increase visibility for their companies and work on expanding access to investors that have expressed interest in female-led startups.

“The tech industry in Israel is not very different from here in terms of gender balance,” said Galili. “There is a lot of need to provide visibility for female founders. They need to be pushed out there more.”

But the factors keeping women from starting their own tech companies are varied and complex.

Cindy Padnos, the founder of Illuminate Ventures, pointed out, for example, that at a basic level the way most incubators work probably does not appeal to many women.

“They require you to drop everything, move and live in some dorm,” she said. “Even if they don’t have families, what woman wants to go live in a hacker house with a bunch of guys?”

Halle Tecco, co-founder of the health startup incubator Rock Health, recalled a similar sentiment from her days at Harvard Business School.

“I remember being left out of all the boys’ club activities but also not necessarily wanting to participate in those activities.”

The Kauffman Foundation’s research found that 33 percent of female tech entrepreneurs reported facing “dismissive attitudes” from colleagues, and 15 percent said their abilities had been questioned at some point.

It is also more challenging for women to gain access to capital. About 7 percent of venture capital funding is won by female entrepreneurs.

“It is for sure more challenging for a woman to gain the same introductions to get access to that capital,” said Padnos.

Beam, at Google, said the tech industry needs a more methodical, data-driven approach to get to the root of the issue.

“The solution is not just creating more women meet ups,” she said. “They are a great forum for discussion, but not actually moving the needle.”

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