Saturday, March 26, 2011

SXSW 2011: Where are the women in startups? Um, everywhere!

Carla Thompson, the founder of women's entrepreneurial network Sharp Skirts, and a Forbes reporter Meghan Casserly moderated a discussion "Where are the women in startups? Um, everywhere!" at SXSW. Carla Thompson is often asked why is there a need for an entrepreneur organization for women. The answer comes from the audience. Talking about her startup in a group of men, a woman first has to get past the "woman" issue. "Oh yes, I'm a woman, but I'm looking for an app developer".

However, not everyone in the audience has had the same experience. Another woman, who is in a tech startup with a bunch of MIT grads, does not feel she is judged differently. Investors ask her the same questions as everyone else. Others commented that this may be a difference between East Coast and Texas. Texas still lags behind treating women equally.

Carla Thompson and Meghan Casserly in the Women in Startups panel at SXSW 2011

Carla Thompson and Meghan Casserly. More pictures from SXSW 2011 are in my photo gallery.

There were about 5 bootstrappers (startup founders who focus on making their business profitable from Day 1, as opposed to living off investment money) in the room, and none of them had venture capitalist (VC) funding. Only one woman had angel investor funding. Her experiences trying to get VC funding had been, in her own words, terribly demoralizing. 9 years ago she went from VC to VC, and was given messages that she was the wrong gender and wrong everything. Then she found an angel network, and raised some funding from them.

Then we got to hear from the other side, a venture capitalist in the room, named Laura. She noted that over the years, women who come to her for funding don't ask for as much money as they will need, and a business plan they show can't be executed on that money. She challenges women to think about growing their business, and ask for as much money as they need. However, considering the difficulties women have when they ask for even more modest amounts of funding, this may be a vicious circle.

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