The New Faces of Entrepreneurship: Part IV – Women

The previous insights in this series have discussed older founders, career-changers, and dropouts.  But another trend that can’t be ignored is the growing percentage of women who own tech companies — and who are making real inroads in the traditionally male-dominated startup scene.

The percentage of female founders has been steadily increasing, and is estimated now at 7% — still a tiny fraction, but on the rise from what was verging on zero not so long ago.  Female-owned businesses in general are growing at 1.5x the national average, so it is no surprise that the trend would extend into the startup world.

There are real issues that have hampered women in the past from gaining more ground in tech — a lower percentage of women studying math, engineering, and computer science (thus not necessarily having the right skills for tech entrepreneurship) and with fewer women founders to look to as evidence of female success in the startup world, gaining trust (and VC funding) has been somewhat challenging.  While there’s no reason for women-run companies to be judged differently, there are biases that some founders have had to overcome.

These issues are fading into the background as female founders are becoming more commonplace.  And there are definite advantages to founding teams that have a woman in place — new perspectives, the potential appeal to female-focused media outlets and consumer audiences, and new ideas from a group that has traditionally been underrepresented.

The truth is that women like Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook have paved the way.  By speaking out and becoming mentors to other women, they have lowered the barriers to entry and made the pathway that much easier for women who may have felt shut out of the tech world in the past.  There is a lower cost for anyone to start a tech company than ever before, and no reason why women shouldn’t continue to grow as far as representation.  Women are supporting each other more and more, through Meetups, events, conferences, and networking.  Here are just a few examples of women prominent in the startup scene right now:

Example: Sarah Friar, CFO, Square

In 2013, Square launched Code Camp, a four-day program with technical sessions, leadership talks, and a hackathon, designed for women pursuing degrees in computer science.  Starting with a college session, the program expanded this year with a high school Code Camp.  The sessions, taught by Square staffers, are often, according to Wired, “the first time [participants have] gotten to code with a group of women.”

For her part, Friar believes the lack of women in tech results from a “systemic bias which we should all be fighting to overcome,” from an interview she gave to the International Business Times.  Fully 50 percent of small businesses using Square to process credit card transactions are led or founded by women — compared to 30 percent of small businesses overall.

Example: Christina Mercando, CEO, Ringly

Ringly, which launched on Kickstarter with a smartphone-connected ring that raised over $60,000 in eight hours, emerged from co-founder and CEO Mercando wanting to keep track of calls and appointments through a piece of jewelry that she would be “proud to wear,” according to an interview in Wired.

With black onyx, pink sapphire, rainbow moonstone and emerald varieties, the ring can be programmed to flash and blink in five colors and multiple patterns for user-set notifications — phone calls, meetings, new messages, etc.

Example: Leah Busque, founder, TaskRabbit

Busque, who has a B.S. in mathematics and computer science, founded TaskRabbit after needing dog food on a snowy night, and wishing someone could get it for her.

The site, which matches workers with people who need small tasks and errands completed, has raised over $40 million in venture funding — and  Busque has been named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business.”

Example: Julia Hartz, co-founder and president, Eventbrite

Eventbrite was started in 2006, and has processed more than $2 billion of ticket sales.  Hartz believes she has worked hard to create an environment friendly to her workers — not just women, but everyone.  In a recent interview with Silicon Republic, she says, “I am really proud of the balance we have and the diversity and I think one of the ways we do that is we create a very inclusive environment – actively creating an environment where people can work at Eventbrite no matter what stage of life they are at and they feel embraced by the company.”

Too often, in the young-single-male-dominated world of Silicon Valley, those efforts haven’t necessarily been made, and a huge slice of the potential workforce — women, but not only women — have not felt welcome.  Now, with examples like these and others, the industry is opening up — and women are becoming more and more prominent.  There is no reason that trend shouldn’t continue.