About Astia

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders

Three simple suggestions for how women can fix the dearth of women leaders.
1) Raise your hand and keep your hand raised!
2) Enlist your partner - it will improve your sex life, too!
3) Don't leave before your leave!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Integrating Technology and Cultural Understanding to Improve the Health of Underserved Populations

sponsored by The Peninsula Chapter, The Global Health Research Foundation, and the Los Altos Public Library

Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Free to all; Cosponsored by the Santa Clara County Library
Refreshments: 7:00 pm
Program: 7:30 pm

Los Altos Youth Center
1 South San Antonio Rd.
Los Altos, CA

Frequently international health improvement programs designed to reach medically underserved populations fail because they are missing the key ingredients of sustainability and cultural integration.

By incorporating technical innovations and advanced computational techniques, along with integration of the cultural context of health and disease, The Global Health Research Foundation (GHRF) has developed a “Toolkit for Sustainability” to measure health outcomes and inform continuing improvements in health for medically underserved populations. GHRF tools allow program managers to pool multiple factors affecting health and disease, then determine and test key related variables. GHRF tools also allow resources to be tracked and appropriately targeted so that locally led health improvement efforts are integrated within the community and thus sustained. These tools have been successfully implemented to assist Uganda in its Malaria Surveillance Program through a rapid return of data to track the disease.

GHRF is assisting the Fresno County Asthma Coalition in delineating the role of pollution on the rapid rise of asthma in Fresno’s at risk populations. Recently, efforts have been focused on assisting the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Ministry of Health in providing effective, affordable health to all citizens, and in incorporating environmental preservation in its health improvement programs. The cultural background for these efforts are discussed as a major issue in implementing programs.

Erica Weirich is a practicing Physician and Stanford faculty, who lives and works in Los Altos Hills. With degrees in Medicine and International Development Policy, she has worked in maternal and child health in remote Northern Pakistan, reproductive health in the Republic of Georgia, and on Refugee Health in London, England.

Facebook, Fashion…and Flamethrowers?!

Women-led Casual Gaming Startup to Launch Fashion Creation Application

San Francisco, CA – December 13, 2010 – San Francisco-based company Real Life Plus (RL+) announces the launch of Style Studio and Fashion FaceOff, Facebook applications where users create 3D fashion designs and promote them in a fun-filled rating arena.

If looks could kill, this application would be in jail. Style Studio is comprised of easy-to-use tools to create 3D fabrics, clothing and outfits. Fashion Faceoff lets users be judge, jury and executioner to decide the fate of would be designers around the world. Budding fashionistas can rise through the ranks and earn points to purchase virtual goods inside any RL+ product. Flamethrowers and other instruments of destruction can be used to destroy designs deemed unworthy. It’s couture war!

“I wanted to create something easy enough for my mom to play, yet cool enough for my 15 year old nephew to try,” says Terry Redfield, Founder and Chief Creative Officer for RL+. “My goal is to make applications and virtual spaces that all tie together into one exciting experience.”

Both Style Studio and Fashion FaceOff may be downloaded at www.realifeplus.com.

About Real Life Plus
Our mission is to create a virtual entertainment space that is fun and simple to use for everyone. We focus on creating a comfortable environment to meet friends. Our motto is fun in 30 seconds or less, whether you are creating your own clothing brand with our easy to use tools, taking on a job activity to earn currency or meeting people just like you in our immersive 3D space.

The Real Life Plus Development and Community Team consist of social enthusiasts and traditional game/mobile developers that are looking to create the next generation of casual games and social experiences. The RL+ Team each have 10+ years of experience and are driven by a passion for social media. Team members have worked on popular games such as The Sims 2, Resident Evil, Toy Story, Tomb Raider, Psychonauts, SpongeBob Squarepants and Madden NFL.

Real Life Plus. It's Reality - Made by You.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Exceptional female entrepreneurs wanted!

Astia calls for applications to join its accelerator programme in Europe

LONDON and AMSTERDAM, 15 December, 2010 – The premier venture accelerator for women-led high- growth companies, is calling for applications from UK and European start-ups to join Astia and participate in its prestigious Entrepreneur Programme, to be held in London in March 2011. Technology, Life Science and Clean Technology companies are encouraged to apply.

Founded in Silicon Valley and held annually in Silicon Valley, New York, and London, Astia’s Entrepreneur Programme is transformative - providing entrepreneurs with access to a broad range of resources and experts that ensure access to capital as well as the successful growth of their businesses.

“I have seen the calibre of female entrepreneurs that Astia supports with its network and programmes and very much looking forward to the class of 2011 Astia Europe,” said Sherry Coutu of Cambridge Angels.

A handpicked group of just 255 companies across the globe have been invited to become part of the Astia programme since 2003. Invitations are extended only to those companies that pass Astia’s robust screening and qualification process.

Since 2003, more than 60% of the companies showcased at Astia Investor Forums have secured funding or an exit within one year, totalling more than $750 million raised and 21 exits including two IPOs.

“The programme has produced exceptional results over the years – our funding success rate is unmatched in the market,” commented Sharon Vosmek, CEO, Astia. “We are excited to see the growth and adoption of the Astia model in Europe.”

Participants in the European Programme in London will spend five days, 14-18 March 2011, in a series of workshops, one on one sessions and discussions with investors, entrepreneurs and business professionals designed to provide a blueprint for successful fundraising and growth strategies. This is followed by an eight-week advisory period which includes investors, CEOs and business professionals from the Astia community of over 1000 men and women. Select companies will then present to the investment community at the Astia Investor Forum on 12th May 2011. Prior Forum attendees include Accel, Octopus Ventures, Index Ventures, Atomico, and the Technology Strategy Board.

Janneke Niessen, COO and Co-founder, ImproveDigital, Astia Europe class of 2010, said, “We had an amazing week in the Astia European programme, talking to many interesting people and learning a lot. We know Astia can deliver a lot of opportunities to us, and we are looking forward being part of it! The Astia programme and community are invaluable to us in developing high growth and international plans of our company – and we have been able to establish extremely important relationships with outstanding investors and advisors through the Astia programme.”

Simone Brummelhuis, Vice President, Europe, Astia, said, “I am delighted to be rolling out Astia’s programme in Europe for 2011. The UK and Europe are bursting with entrepreneurial ventures, many of which are led by superbly talented women. We want to provide these women with access to the rich network and expertise that Astia has to offer. I encourage all ambitious female entrepreneurs to apply.”

The deadline to apply is 7th February 2011. Apply via www.astia.org. Online screening will be done by investors, CEOs and business professionals until February 18th, followed by in-person screening on February 24th.

Contact Simone Brummelhuis at simone@astia.org


About Astia

Astia is a global not-for-profit organization with a distinct focus and mission – to propel women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, fueling innovation and driving economic growth. Guided by a proven philosophy that gender diversity is an essential element of innovation, Astia works with start-ups around the world as they access capital, grow their businesses, and hone the leadership skills of their founding teams.

The Astia model of engaging a community of 1000 experts to the benefit of the select start-ups it serves has resulted in an exceptional success rate: since 2003, over 60 percent of companies that have participated in the Astia Investor Forums have secured funding or achieved an exit within one year of presenting, totalling more than $750 million dollars raised and 21 exits, including two IPOs. Headquartered in San Francisco, Astia delivers programs for entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, New York, London and India. Astia has also had significant press coverage in major media channels including The New York Times, Businessweek, Forbes and The Financial Times. For more information, visit www.astia.org.

Astia Sponsors

Astia is generously supported by The Three Guineas Fund, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Microsoft, Fenwick & West, AOL, Lowenstein Sandler, Moss Adams, Morrison & Foerster, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, SNR Denton, SVB Financial Group, Osborne Clarke, US Trust – Bank of America, Wells Fargo, AngelSoft, Cisco, Iron Creative, IF Communications, Tier One Partners, J. Sagar Associates, Alloy Ventures, AOL Ventures, Asset Management, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, Illuminate Ventures, Levensohn Venture Partners, Golden Seeds, Prolog Ventures, StarVest Partners, and Rose Tech Ventures.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"I'm taking my cow, that cow belongs to me!"

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's surprise appearance at the TED Women conference

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Embracing the Beauty of Balance

Halla Tomasdottir: A feminine response to Iceland's financial crash

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is the right time to be an entrepreneur?

The following is a guest post by Esha Tiwary.

This is one question I’ve been thinking about for a while, and that often comes up in conversations. It is an interesting one because it seems to have a “publicly acceptable” answer, regardless of what the individual might personally believe. It is a favorite topic of academicians to disseminate wisdom on, quite ironically I must add. And it is definitely one that has given every budding or struggling entrepreneur a sleepless night or two.

Of course, the well-known answer is, “When you have gathered enough relevant experience.” Everyone knows how important experience is to build a successful business. You can’t possibly know what to do if you haven’t been doing the exact same thing for the past 10 years. Current entrepreneurs will agree because that’s what they were told and they went and got the experience. Investors will agree because this is the only easy filter they can apply to choose amongst the hundreds of proposals they see every year. And academicians, well, serial (and hence, experienced) entrepreneurs make the best business school case studies!

Allow me to propose something drastic. The above answer is wrong. And it is wrong for the simple reason that the question itself is incorrect. I think the right question is, “What is the right attitude to be an entrepreneur?” It is a state of mind and not a biological age that determines when one is ready to be an entrepreneur. And no place better exemplified this than the Astia Doing it Right program this year. It was supremely inspiring to see the absolute range of entrepreneurs there – from a 21 year old to women who had been in the industry for two decades before taking the plunge. And one thing they all had in common was the spark – the desire to build something amazing.

A thing to note is also that you needn’t always have “the idea” to be able to take the plunge. One of the women I met at Astia said that one day she just decided that she wanted to build her own business. And once she made that decision, everything sort of fell into place. Because let’s face it, the right attitude and effort can turn the most commonplace of ideas into a stroke of genius.

- Esha Tiwary

Esha is the Head of Business Development at Embrace, one of the companies selected in the Doing it Right program this year. She is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guest conversation from Astia VP Europe, Simone Brummelhuis

Astia is a community of experts, building women leaders and accelerating the funding and growth of high potential, high growth women-led start-ups.

I have read and heard this many times, it's on the Astia website, the reason of its existence, it became for me almost a mantra.

And as of this week I know, I have seen that the mantra is true.

I have never seen a group of experts more committed, more experienced, more qualified than this week. And I have never seen a group of women entrepreneurs who are so eager to be leaders and to accelerate their high potential startups. I am overwhelmed, and I am not the only one, the entrepreneurs are overwhelmed, both by the experts as well as their peers.

Last week I arrived in San Francisco -after a 22 year absence- much too long. And the occasion to visit San Francisco is the 2010 Astia Doing it Right Silicon Valley Program.

A full 43 companies and 58 entrepreneurs made it through the rigorous screening of joining this week’s program. Most are North American companies, 2 companies from Europe, 1 company from India and 1 company from New Zealand in industries of clean tech, life-science, enterprise software, medical devices, leisure and retail products.

Many of these female entrepreneurs have built a business before, some in a corporate environment, some have successfully exited their previous businesses. Some of the startups already raised their angel money, and are connecting with Astia for the institutional rounds of funding. Some of them are serial entrepreneurs or -as one woman calls herself- Startup Junkies. But what has been clear from the outset is that the class of 2010 is quite special.

I came to watch, to learn, to support the European companies, and, above all, to get ready for our European Astia program which will take place March 14-18, 2011.

From the first day of the program with a panel of impressive alumni Astia entrepreneurs - who where in the 60% success rate of Astia companies getting funding - to the last day of the program: it has been a roller coaster of panels, workshops and round tables with impressive investors, entrepreneurs, corporate heads and service providers with bios that each read as novels.

The entrepreneurs have -inter alia- stood up to present their ideas, listened to seasoned entrepreneurs who have uncovered their go-to-market strategy, calculated their financial projections together with financial wizzards, shaken hands with illustre giants of the tech industry, given out business cards to gatekeepers of venture capital firms, and established relationships with the global corporate giants.

The week was packed from morning to evening, there was no escape but go for it; a steep learning curve for all the women-led companies as never before. Also, never before were so many men and women of outstanding caliber together to support women-led companies. Tom Kosnik of Stanford, Dan'l Lewin of Microsoft, Bashkar Gorti of Oracle, Bill Reichert of Garage Technology Ventures and Bill Campbell, Chairman of Intuit. And who says that there are no women in global high positions? With Shellye Archambeau of Metric Stream, Eileen Gittens of Blurb, Andrea Zurek of XG Ventures and Renee Knee of Hewlett Packard, Astia brought forward outstanding rolemodels.

And on top of it, there was Female Internet Hero, Susan Wojcicki of Google who presented her case to give her support to the Astia female entrepreneurs.

As one of the first employees from 1999 at Google (she let her garage to Sergey and Larry), now a top 10 leader in Google and responsible for 97% of Google's turnover, while being a mom of 4 children, she puts in practice her own advice: Have a mission and you and other people can work harder for you, collect the best insights and make them your own, continue innovation and not perfection and believe in the impossible and it can become true, and KEEP GOING!

The great things is, that it's all applicable to the Astia class of 2010.

We want this in Europe too!

Simone Brummelhuis joined Astia in 2008 as a member of the Astia European Advisory Board. A former attorney, today she runs Astia Europe as the Vice President of that market. Simone lives in Amsterdam with her husband and three daughters.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Open Letter from the CEO to the new Astia companies

November 2010

Dear Entrepreneur,

Welcome to Astia!

Today begins your relationship with a ten-year-old community that spans the globe and seeks to ensure your success as a business and your success as an entrepreneur. We focus on what matters most to high-growth entrepreneurs – skills and networks. We know that it takes specific skills to succeed in high-growth markets and that those skills can be learned (think “not recreating wheels”). Of equal importance, it takes a network to connect you to your investors, customers, suppliers, employees and acquirers (think “the individual does not scale”).

All of this we know because of who we are. We are a community of entrepreneurs, investors, industry leaders, and others who influence and benefit from the high-growth, innovation ecosystem.

Our model is extremely unique, in that it is:

High touch – over 1,000 advisors work to help our entrepreneurs grow their businesses and achieve success. On average, Astia Advisors spend over five hours per week with our companies during the Doing It Right program.

Highly customized – the Astia screening process gives us critical information that enables us to build a program and an Advisor team designed for each company and entrepreneur’s specific needs, based on stage and location of company, market opportunity, technology, CEO experience, and every other bit of information you have provided. This approach is how we will continue to work with you long after your experience at the Doing It Right program.

High impact – since 2003, our clients have averaged a greater-than 60% success rate – a level unparalleled in the industry. Each Advisor relationship is tied to measurable results. This is not a networking group. This is a group that delivers real and measurable results for the entrepreneur.

In today’s uncertain investment climate, you must focus on your business. Let us join you in that effort. As I said at the beginning of this letter, Astia is a community – and as of today – Astia is you!

Yours sincerely,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek Participates in Women’s Entrepreneurship Conference at The White House

SAN FRANCISCO | October 12, 2010

Astia named in Opening Session as providing great leadership to women entrepreneurs

Astia, the premier Silicon Valley venture accelerator for women-led high growth companies, today announced that CEO Sharon Vosmek participated in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Conference convened by The White House Council on Women and Girls, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Treasury on October 4, 2010. Astia was named in the Opening Session by Karen Mills, Administrator US Small Business Administration, as providing great leadership and was invited to share with these agencies the learnings, perspectives, and experiences unique to women high-growth entrepreneurs. The day was comprised of opening keynotes followed by working break-out sessions to discuss challenges and solutions moving forward.

While women have made great strides in growing businesses and creating jobs over the past few decades, significant challenges still remain. This Conference brought together a mix of business owners, women leaders, advocacy groups and government officials to address the critical challenges, opportunities and public policy initiatives needed to move the women’s business agenda to the next level. The event was a clear sign of the Obama Administration’s commitment to creating opportunities for women and fostering their entrepreneurial spirit.

“I commend The White House Council on Women and Girls, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Treasury for convening this conference and recognizing the important role of women entrepreneurs in the economy,” said Sharon J. Vosmek, CEO of Astia. “I was honored to be invited to the conversation to ensure that the unique needs of high growth companies were discussed, as compared to small businesses and micro enterprises.”

According to Astia, two of the greatest challenges for high growth women entrepreneurs are:

Access to networks. Men and women in different networks is a societal issue that is magnified in the investment or fundraising scenario and a gender inclusive approach is needed. Currently there are too many women-only solutions and this approach excludes women from opportunities to which they should have access.

Self-assurance. Women still self assess lower than men, and therefore their business aspirations are often understated. With access to diverse networks and advisors and the opportunity to scale the business, women succeed.

A new report focused on these challenges, titled “Women-owned Businesses in the 21st Century,” was released at the conference. This report was prepared by the US Dept of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration for the White House Council on Women and Girls. Key findings of the study shared with the group included:

• Women owned businesses contribute $1.2 Trillion to the US Economy;
• Women owned businesses lag behind their male counterparts in growth;
• Key causes for the lag continue to be access to capital and industries chosen by women (i.e. healthcare and education);
• Between 1997 and 2006, majority women-owned firms in the U.S. grew at nearly twice the rate of all US privately held firms;
• Currently 10.1 million firms are owned by women, employing more than 13 million people, and generate $1.9 trillion in sales.

In her opening remarks, Karen Mills, Administrator of the US Small Business Association named Astia and Dr. Patricia Greene of Babson College (pictured in photo above) as key to the day’s conversations. Speakers at the event included Tina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement & Executive Director of the White House Council on Women & Girls and Valerie Jarrett, Sr. Advisor to the President & Chair of the White House Council on Women & Girls. Approximately 120 people were in attendance.

About Astia
Astia is a global not-for-profit organization built on a community with a distinct focus and mission – to propel women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, fueling innovation and driving economic growth. Guided by a proven philosophy that gender diversity is an essential element of innovation, Astia works with start-ups around the world as they access capital, grow their businesses, and hone the leadership skills of their founding teams.

The Astia model of engaging a community of experts to the benefit of the select start-ups it serves has resulted in an exceptional success rate: since 2003, over 60 percent of companies that have participated in the Astia Investor Forums have secured funding or achieved an exit within one year of presenting, totalling more than $750 million dollars raised and 20 exits, including two IPOs. Headquartered in San Francisco, Astia delivers programs for entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, New York, London and India. Astia has also had significant press coverage in major media channels including The New York Times, Businessweek, Forbes, The Daily Telegraph and The Financial Times.

For more information, visit www.astia.org.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Improve Digital publishes first ‘market map’ of European online display advertising industry

Publishers struggling to tell their ad networks from their ad exchanges and their DSPs from their agency trading desks have a new tool to help them keep pace with the sub-sectors of the online advertising world. In response to frequent customer requests, Improve Digital (the largest European sell side platform, or yield optimiser) has gathered information from its offices and partners in the UK and Europe and mapped the current European online display advertising ecosystem1.

'2010 – Display Advertising Market Map Europe', which includes definitions of the various industry sub-sectors, is available to download for free from: http://www.improvedigital.com/market-map-2010

Digital advertising continues to benefit from sophisticated technology that enables increasing effectiveness. As a result, more and more players have entered the market, while others have been taken over by the larger players. A specialist in the sector, Improve Digital is regularly asked to clarify the roles played and the relationships between companies in the industry. With a map already available on the US market (courtesy of GCA Savian), Improve Digital believed an equivalent of the European landscape was required.

This decision was reinforced by the findings of a survey carried out by Improve Digital earlier this year. This revealed that 90 percent of publishers believe that if digital marketing is to reach its potential, the sector must ensure that it provides comprehensive information that is easily understood by people outside the industry. Even those within the sector feel that information is not always forthcoming – nearly a quarter for example said that the difference between an ad exchange and an ad network is not clear.

“The online display advertising market has changed beyond all recognition over the past few years,” explains Joëlle Frijters, CEO of Improve Digital. “This is good news because it encourages all-important innovation, but it can make it difficult to understand the complexities, even for people working in the industry. The US market map has proved popular and useful, and we wanted to make it equally easy to have an 'at a glance' view of the European ecosystem. At the same time, the dynamic nature of the sector means that the positioning of the different players changes fast and on a continuous basis, so this is very much a ‘snapshot’ of the current situation, as perceived by various partners and premium publishers in the market.”

Note 1: The current version of ‘2010 – Display Advertising Market Map Europe’ has been prepared gathering information and knowledge from Improve Digital’s largest publishers and demand partners in the UK and Europe. Special thanks to Elevage Media, Sembassy and Market Edge.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is there a movement for women helping women?

During a recent interview with a reporter from the New York Times I was asked, “Is there a movement for women helping women?”

I think she was surprised by my answer – “No! But there should be.”

OK, I did modify the answer - but only by a bit. It is my observation that there is a current flurry of tweets and blogs and even proper new stories (like the one she intends to do) about the dearth of women entrepreneurs and shouldn’t we all be doing something to solve it. I will even concede that it has gotten to the point that folks like Brian O’Malley at Battery Ventures are reaching out to me to tell me that the last “3 of my last 4 investments have been founded by women!” (exclamation point by Brian). Clearly there is something shifting. The new new thing seems to be having a woman in your portfolio! (exclamation point added by me.)

However, my caution is that this feels less like a movement and more like a bubble. My thoughts, that I shared with the reporter, were that this movement needed three things that it currently lacks to give it the foundation that it needs. I take these learnings from TiE – which in its short 13 years has taken Indian entrepreneurs and investors from the margins to the center stage.

  • We need a philanthropic investment. It is my observation that successful women need to be the ones to really get this agenda properly funded. Organizations like Astia, FWE&E, Women 2.0, Anita Borg – we all struggle on a string to create real impact for women. That needs to change! At TiE, the Charter members wrote (and still write) meaningful checks to fund the network. They knew that no one else was going to do it for them.
  • We need investment from women in women. Once again, taking a page from TiE, women investors need to step up – and stop fearing that investing in a woman makes them an activist investor. Men don’t feel the same when they bring a man in to the portfolio. And at TiE it was part of the agenda – to get wealthy Indians to invest in Indian entrepreneurs. Thanks to groups like Golden Seeds and Phenomenelle Angels, and individuals like Janet Hanson at 85 Broads and Cindy Padnos at Illuminate Ventures, there is a bit of this happening. But we need to make it the expected activity.
  • We need a committed, actively involved network to ignite this movement. We need this movement to have voice and dare to challenge the status quo. TiE did it 13 years ago, and we at Astia can do it today.

Stay tuned for more about how I think we can achieve these together. For now, enjoy our update and many upcoming happenings.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gender, Technology and Entrepreneurship

The following is a guest post by Jennifer Hill, Chair, Astia NYC Advisory Board

In late July, I joined an esteemed group of students, professors, entrepreneurs, technologists, lawyers and media voices from the New York City and Boston technology communities for a day of provocative thought and discussion, courtesy of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. The day’s events were hosted by the eloquent Vivek Wadhwa, Senior Research Associate with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and an executive-in-residence/adjunct professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. Mr. Wadhwa’s opening presentation, “Entrepreneurship: where are all the women and minorities?” focused on the dearth of women and minorities in high-growth entrepreneurship (i.e. characterized by Silicon Valley-like success), the rise of the Indian community within Silicon Valley and the importance of early science, math and technology-focused education. (For an inspiring view on how even small amounts of entrepreneurial mentorship, education and path-building can positively impact young women, please visit the Roshni Academy.)

The statistics Mr. Wadhwa presented on minority participation in the Silicon Valley workforce were staggering: African-Americans account for only 1.4%; Hispanic-Americas: 4.7%. Yet within the time period of 1995-2010 Southeast Asians rose to account for nearly 15.5% of tech companies founded within Silicon Valley. The reason? They funded themselves. Mr. Wadhwa’s central thesis is similar to that which many communities have quietly advocated and practiced for generations: support your own. Look to your own communities - those more likely to understand your moral/cultural/ethnic values - as the first port of call for capital investment. Use your personal and local networks as a launchpad. Indeed, angel investor groups such as Golden Seeds already institute this belief by means of its practice of investing capital into predominantly women-led companies.

Yet perhaps more interesting than the topic of different gender and minority communities underwriting forays into entrepreneurship was the roundtable discussion in the afternoon led by Mr. Wadhwa and Professor Oliver R. Goodenough, a professor of law at Berkman and the Vermont Law School. Chief among the topics, which ranged from investment, mentorship and the entrepreneur’s perspective of capital raising, was the issue of “gender and entrepreneurship” versus “female entrepreneurship”. Does substituting a neutral term for a feminine one change the tone of the discussion? Does it enable both sexes to view the notion of entrepreneurship as a natural path instead of a separate, distinct, and sometimes stigmatized undertaking? (Responses to this last point were perhaps more comfortably discussed within an academic setting.)

The notion of “female entrepreneurship” seemed to unleash a set of gender-associated “caricaturistics”?!, such as differing risk tolerances, false senses of fear in not attaining perfection – which affected entry into entrepreneurship, use of organic versus outside capital resources, time and speed of company growth rates, concern over declaring themselves as experts without a track record, the notion of sharing - the prevalence of feeling more comfortable launching a company with a co-founder, and entitlements to success. The roundtable audience included both genders and a span of generations. The term “gender” versus “feminine” somehow caused the conversation to seem more meritorious instead of polarizing.

Out of the conversation about “why” came the wellspring of ideas of “what next”. Four key themes emerged:

(1) Mentors. Mentors. Mentors. Find them early in your career as possible. Change them along the way as you evolve. Identify role models; the media can help wit this as new ones are emerging at faster rates.

(2) Teach innovation, computer science skills and the power of entrepreneurship earlier in school – especially to young girls.

(3) Keep lists of talented women across generations, industries, and professions as recommendations for panels, speaking engagements, and the like.

(4) Ask women to step up to the plate and start a company. The White House Project encourages people to invite women to run for political office. Why not apply the same vision to entrepreneurship? Ask a talented woman you know whether she has considered starting a company? Keep asking. Within every one of us is the opportunity to launch something outstanding.

Astia is doing its part to accelerate companies within the vein of these recommendations, especially in the area of mentors, or – as Astia refers to them – “Advisors.” Companies selected to join the Astia community are introduced to four key advisors to accelerate their companies faster. Aside from providing engaged advice and guidance in a variety of areas from financing, law, technology, marketing, CEO leadership development and the like, they also open up their personal networks to the benefit of the companies. For more information about Astia’s advisor program or to learn about becoming an advisor, please check out the Astia website. Serving as an Astia advisor is an outstanding way to quickly make a positive impact with an entrepreneur and her high-growth company.

If you have not explored Astia’s website, then I encourage you to do so. Get to know the outstanding community of entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, technologists, marketing experts, strategists, lawyers, business development professionals and more across a variety of industries. Astia is a growing ecosystem of global professionals who are now and will become the leaders of tomorrow.


Jennifer Hill is an attorney. She serves as Chair of the Astia Board of Advisors in New York City as well as on the Board of Directors at AOL Small Business.

You can watch video here>>

Friday, July 2, 2010

TheDeal Magazine: Closing the VC Gender Gap by Mary Kathleen Flynn

Venture capital remains an old-boy network, with only 14% of VCs being women and women receiving less than 10% of venture funding. At the recent We Own It Summit, VCs, angel investors and researchers focused on strategies to boost female participation in the venture-backed ecosystem. In The Deal's video montage, we hear from Kristine Brandt, director of Invesco Private Capital, Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek, Kauffman Foundation vice president Lesa Mitchell and Silicon Valley Bank senior vice president Megan Scheffel. - Mary Kathleen Flynn

Closing the VC gender gap from TheDeal TV on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Astia VP NYC, Jennifer Hill

What a fantastic day in New York City!

This morning I had the pleasure of appearing as a guest on MSNBC’s Your Business television show – filmed at NBC Studios in Rockefeller Plaza. Hosted by JJ Ramberg, journalist and co-founder of GoodSearch.com, I was joined by Cynthia Franklin, Senior Associate Director of the NYU Stern Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Today’s episode centered on two women entrepreneurs – and one male entrepreneur -- capitalizing on the vast potential of tailoring products to the female market:

Erika Wilson, creator of Purse Flats, foldable ballet shoes that fit neatly into a stylish and elegant clutch purse.

Tish Ciravolo, founder and President of Daisy Rock Guitars, the first brand of guitars strictly for girls.

Frank Davern, founder of Cool Girl Decks (formerly Cool Girl Skateboards), skateboards geared specifically to girls.

As entrepreneurs passionate about their particular fields (guitars for Tish and skateboards for Frank), both zeroed in on the fact that the existing market’s product selection left a void: young women. Indeed, women worldwide make or influence at least 64% of all purchases across categories(1). However, what struck me about each of the entrepreneurs’ stories is a particular characteristic present in successful entrepreneurs: they make everything relevant.

Take Tish and Daisy Rock as a prime example. A guitarist from high school onward, Tish enjoyed a vibrant rock music career throughout the L.A. area. Her lifelong passion for music – and the guitar – was a gift she wanted to share with her two young daughters. Her dream was that “every girl who wants to play guitar is welcomed and inspired to do so(2).” Fueled by this dream – and her daughter Nicole’s drawing of a picture of a daisy – Tish realized that by making guitars more visually appealing, balanced in size and weight for women and girls of all ages, and tailoring the tools to create a welcome and inviting experience, more women and girls would pick up a guitar.

With that vision, Tish launched Daisy Rock Guitars offering rock, bass, electric, acoustic, and more in fun colors, shapes and sizes to fit the needs of female guitarists of all ages. Her products are valued by more than 150,000 women and girls worldwide in 26 countries, including famous professional artists such as Avril Lavigne, Joan Jett, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, Dolly Parton, and even men(!), including the Cure’s Robert Smith and Chris Stein from Blondie(3). She transformed her love of music into a business and channeled her passion and energy into a platform for female empowerment through music.

Tish is a phenomenal example of an entrepreneur who connected the dots from her background, passions, skills and industry experience into a new path that expanded a market and launched an entrepreneurial venture. In other words, she made everything relevant. Through such links many great challenges are solved, new paths found, and inspiration ignited into action that adds to innovation.

Entrepreneurs find inspiration everywhere – from a chance conversation, an otherwise ordinary data point, or even a prior experience that left them wanting for a solution. The relentless desire to pursue a dream enables them to see and form connections that might not otherwise be found. By evaluating, examining and applying accumulated experiences, a new business can be created. This is a lesson for all of us -- regardless of whether our goal is to launch a new venture or simply to adopt a different perspective to a pressing situation.

Inspired by this week’s guests, I encourage each of you to take a page from their books and spend a few moments pondering how you can make your accomplishments, skills, beliefs, passions, creative inclinations, adventures and hobbies relevant in a new innovative way. You might just find that you are launching the next great company …

[1] Michael J. Silverstein and Kate Sayre, Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World’s Largest, Fastest Growing Market (Harper Business 2009).
[2] Tish Caravalo – Founder and President, Daisy Rock Guitars (2010).
[3] Id.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley

First published April 16, 2010
San Francisco

CANDACE FLEMING’S résumé boasts a double major in industrial engineering and English from Stanford, an M.B.A. from Harvard, a management position at Hewlett-Packard and experience as president of a small software company.

But when she was raising money for Crimson Hexagon, a start-up company she co-founded in 2007, she recalls one venture capitalist telling her that it didn’t matter that she didn’t have business cards, because all they would say was “Mom.”

Another potential backer invited her for a weekend yachting excursion by showing her a picture of himself on the boat — without clothes. When a third financier discovered that her husband was also a biking enthusiast, she says, he spent more time asking if riding affected her husband’s reproductive capabilities than he did focusing on her business plan.

Ultimately, none of the 30 venture firms she pitched financed her company. She finally raised $1.8 million in March 2008 from angel investors including Golden Seeds, a fund that emphasizes investing in start-ups led by women.

“I didn’t know things like this still happened,” says Ms. Fleming, 37. “But I know that, especially in risky times like the last couple years, some investors kind of retreat to investing via a template.” A company owned by a woman, she adds, “is just not the standard template.”

Though many people say that outright sexism is rare in the tech world these days, the barriers that Ms. Fleming encountered aren’t unusual. Tech communities in Silicon Valley and in other hubs — like New York, Austin, Tex., and Boston, where Ms. Fleming lives — pride themselves on operating as raw meritocracies ready to embrace anyone with a good idea, regardless of education, age or station in life.

For women, though, that narrative often unfolds differently.

Women own 40 percent of the private businesses in the United States, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research. But they create only 8 percent of the venture-backed tech start-ups, according to Astia, a nonprofit group that advises female entrepreneurs.

That disparity reaches beyond entrepreneurs. Women account for just 6 percent of the chief executives of the top 100 tech companies, and 22 percent of the software engineers at tech companies over all, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. And among venture capitalists, the population of financiers who control the purse strings for a majority of tech start-ups, just 14 percent are women, the National Venture Capital Association says.

That reality is even more complex when race is factored into the mix. Small percentages of workers in information technology are African-American, Asian or Hispanic, and that number is even smaller for women.

“It’s not like people are making an effort to exclude people, but I see very little diversity in the candidate pool,” says Aileen Lee, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the big venture capital firm. She says this could reflect the different educational paths men and women follow in high school and college: men, for a variety of reasons, are more likely to pursue computer science and engineering degrees and subsequently rise through start-up or management ranks.

WOMEN now outnumber men at elite colleges, law schools, medical schools and in the overall work force. Yet a stark imbalance of the sexes persists in the high-tech world, where change typically happens at breakneck speed.

And analysts say more than social equity is at stake. A dearth of ideas and participation by women in the technology churn has business consequences as well.

The latest Web start-ups — for socializing, gaming and shopping — often attract more women than men as users. And many products from tech giants are aimed at women. But when Apple unveiled its new mobile computing device, it called it the iPad — a name that made many women wince with visions of feminine hygiene products.

Research indicates that investing in women as tech entrepreneurs is good for the bottom line. Venture-backed start-ups run by women use, on average, 40 percent less capital than start-ups run by men and are increasingly involved in successful initial public offerings of stock, according to a recent white paper by Cindy Padnos, a venture capitalist who compiled data from 100 studies on gender and tech entrepreneurship.

“When you have gender diversity in an organization, you have better innovation, and I don’t know where innovation is more important than in the high-tech world,” says Ms. Padnos, who recently founded Illuminate Ventures, which invests in start-ups led by women.

Firms like hers, along with nonprofit organizations like the National Center for Women and Information Technology, Astia and Springboard Enterprises, are trying to fix the problem by raising awareness, mentoring entrepreneurial women and introducing them to investors.

“The good news is that Silicon Valley will see this change,” says Monica Morse, a trustee at Astia. “They will chase the person they think will make the money, regardless of whether they wear a skirt.”

Even so, some people say substantial barriers still confront women trying to scale the technological peaks. “It all boils down to education and accessibility and role models,” says Anu Shukla, who has founded three tech start-ups. “There aren’t enough women entrepreneurs because they don’t see enough women entrepreneurs ahead of them and successful.”

The same still holds true in the tech world’s corporate corridors.

“As you look around the entry-level management positions, even just the ranks of engineers or product people, there just aren’t many women,” says Carol A. Bartz, the chief executive of Yahoo. “So therefore, mathematically, it tells you it’s impossible for them to move up and run something.”

MATH and science classes at Ms. Fleming’s all-girls high school in Albany weren’t as good as those at the all-boys school across the street, she says, so she trekked there and quickly became accustomed to being the only girl in the room. At Stanford, men outnumbered women by three to one in her engineering classes.

For Poornima Vijayashanker, an Indian immigrant, college was also a time when the promise of an engineering career first became apparent. Although all the men in her family were engineers, she spent her childhood dreaming of becoming a lawyer.

“To me, engineering seemed like a 9-to-5 job,” she recalls. “It wasn’t glamorous or exciting.”

It wasn’t until a computer science class at Duke that she “first understood what engineering was all about — building something very quickly and being able to play with it.” She double-majored in computer science and electrical engineering — inspired, she says, by the many young women who were professors in the department.

Ms. Vijayashanker, 27, became the only female engineer at Mint, a personal finance Web site started by a friend from Duke that was sold to Intuit for $170 million last year. Now she is starting her own company, BizeeBee, making software for small business, out of her apartment in Palo Alto, Calif.

But she is weighing a new set of challenges. Though she is just a decade younger than Ms. Fleming, she has seen enough entrepreneurial women encounter obstacles that she is trying to navigate around those issues — like timing motherhood, for example.

Ms. Vijayashanker is starting her company now, partly because she wants to have a family in a few years and says the tech start-up lifestyle isn’t hospitable to child-rearing. That’s why, she says, many young women prefer working at big companies to starting their own.

“Girls have certain family goals they want to accomplish,” she says. “Working 60 hours a week is difficult because it requires a life sacrifice.”

Unlike Ms. Fleming and Ms. Vijayashanker, Karen Watts never got the engineering bug. Ms. Watts, the 38-year-old founder and chief executive of Corefino, which makes business accounting software, was taking college math classes by the time she got to high school, but engineering didn’t grab her attention.

“It just never dawned on me to do it,” she says. “You’re just sitting there pecking away. I need more human interaction.”

That attitude is prevalent among young women. Girls begin to turn away from math and science in elementary school, because of discouragement from parents, underresourced teachers and their own lack of interest and exposure, according to a recent report by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and the Computer Science Teachers Association.

Just 1 percent of girls taking the SAT in 2009 said they wanted to major in computer or information sciences, compared with 5 percent of boys, according to the College Board.

Only 18 percent of college students graduating with computer science degrees in 2008 were women, down from 37 percent in 1985, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

One reason is that engineering has a serious image problem, many women in the field say.

“There’s a really strong image of what a computer scientist is — male, skinny, no social life, eats junk food, plays video games, likes science fiction,” says Sapna Cheryan, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington who has researched why few women choose computer-science careers. “It makes it hard for people who don’t fit that image to think of it as an option for them.”

Women in tech cheered this year when Mattel announced that Barbie, its perennially popular doll whose careers have included supermodel and executive, would have a new calling as a computer scientist (complete with her own hot-pink laptop).

A doll, however, is still a doll. Showcasing flesh-and-blood tech entrepreneurs who are women — and have lives beyond writing code — will go a long way toward encouraging more girls to study computer science, Ms. Cheryan says.

While Ms. Bartz of Yahoo, along with eBay’s former chief executive, Meg Whitman, and Hewlett-Packard’s former C.E.O., Carly Fiorina, offer tangible examples of women who have reached prominent positions in Silicon Valley, other role models like them are scarce.

Many of the dozens of women interviewed for this article mentioned Marissa Mayer, a senior Google executive who is also a media fixture, as someone who gives them hope. Jessica Verrilli, who works on business development at Twitter, has met Ms. Mayer a couple of times.

“Little does she know that in my mind, it’s been really meaningful,” she says. “As a woman working in tech, I really do admire other women who have had successful paths.”

At Stanford, female graduate students in computer science are encouraging freshman women through a group called Women in Computer Science. “It helps to show a human being who does computer science and says, ‘I also really like going to the theater or listening to music,’ so younger women can see you still have a personality and do technology,” says Maria A. Kazandjieva, a doctoral candidate and co-president of the group.

When women take on the challenges of an engineering or computer science education in college, some studies suggest that they struggle against a distinct set of personal, psycho-social issues.

In a study of 493 undergraduate engineering majors’ intentions to continue with their major, men tended to stick with their studies as long as they completed the coursework, while women did so only if they earned high grades.

“Women’s intentions to persist in undergraduate engineering were dependent upon higher academic standards compared to men,” concluded the study, published in 2009 in the Journal of Science Education and Technology.

Even women who soldier though demanding computer science and engineering programs in college don’t subsequently create tech start-ups on a par with their male counterparts. Analysts say another set of issues can persuade female engineers and computer scientists to pursue other paths after they leave school.

TWO weeks after Ms. Fleming’s second baby was born, when she was cooped up at home and exhausted, the phone rang. It was a Harvard professor she knew. He said that he had developed an algorithm to monitor people’s comments about businesses on social media platforms — and that he needed someone to turn the idea into a company.

Ms. Fleming bit.

She wrote the business plan while breastfeeding, and, after hiring two engineers, held meetings with them perched on her child’s bouncy blow-up castle.

“I get the biggest high out of bringing teams together, achieving something with a group,” she says. “That’s why I work. That’s why I love it.”

On her way to becoming an entrepreneur, Ms. Watts has followed a slightly different route from Ms. Fleming.

At the age of 27, after brief stints at an accounting firm and start-ups, she became chief financial officer at a sports start-up called Rivals.com. In that job, she realized the value in automating routine paperwork and dreamed up Corefino.

She didn’t start it, though, until she had worked at four more companies. “I have to know everything; I have to have it all figured out,” she recalls thinking.

Many analysts and entrepreneurs say that attitude — rooted in a lack of confidence — is the main reason that when women do pursue start-ups, they often do it later in life than men.

Ms. Watts was also aware that the hurdles for financing were higher for women. Before she pitched venture capital firms, she made sure they had a woman as a partner and had funded companies led by women.

“If they’re not used to women in a senior position,” she says, “you’re going to be fighting a bunch of battles, and being an entrepreneur is hard enough.”

She learned how to handle male-dominated pitches early in her career, when Rivals.com was buying another start-up. She was in the conference room, pouring a cup of coffee, when the other company’s executives and lawyers walked in. They proceeded to discuss the lowest bid they would accept, as if she wasn’t there.

“They assumed I was the admin,” or secretary, she says. When the group sat down to negotiate, she adds, “Their faces went white as ghosts.”

She was 31 when she started Corefino and decided not to have children. “I don’t know how I could have my own newborn and run this company,” she says. “I just didn’t want to shortchange the child or shortchange the job.”

Ms. Watts’s decision is one that many female engineers weigh. They also say the tug-of-war between work and family is more acute at tech start-ups because of the long hours they require — and the take-no-prisoners culture of Silicon Valley.

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, 56 percent of women with technical jobs leave their work midway through their careers, double the turnover rate for men. Twenty percent of them leave the work force entirely, and an additional 31 percent take nontechnical jobs — suggesting that child-rearing isn’t necessarily the primary reason women move on.

Many are pushed to pursue supervisory and management jobs instead of “individual contributor” jobs involving deep technical expertise, according to a recent study by the Anita Borg Institute, an organization that explores the impact of women on the technology field.

“There really needs to be more effort from companies and from educational institutions to engage women in the innovation process from very early on,” says Caroline Simard, director of the institute’s research initiatives and co-author of the report.

FOR women who choose to leave their jobs to raise children, returning to technical careers after a leave is harder because technology changes so quickly and skills can become rapidly outdated. Some women also leave promising jobs earlier than men because they discover that the workplaces themselves can be lonely.

Ms. Vijayashanker says she “first started to notice women were leaving the field” at her first engineering job at Synopsys, the chip design company, when the only other two women on her team took jobs that involved interacting personally with customers. It was a pattern she recognized from college, when other women who were engineering majors chose careers in business or medicine instead of technology so they could interact more often with other people.

She says she ended up being the only woman in a department dominated by men who were born overseas and in cultures where women didn’t work outside the home.

“Management didn’t quite understand how I fit into the culture and team there,” she says of Synopsys. Ultimately, she was laid off.

Yvette Huygen, a Synopsys spokeswoman, confirmed that Ms. Vijayashanker had been employed there, but said that per company policy, she had no further comment.

Later, when Ms. Vijayashanker joined Mint, she also wanted interaction with other people, but, she said, “the guys went into their rooms and coded all day.” So she started a weekly group lunch and hired an intern so she could write programs with a partner.

WHAT makes investors smile or frown on new companies led by women? Venture capitalists uniformly say they wouldn’t turn down a promising start-up simply because a woman founded it.

“The supply of women C.E.O.’s is lower than the supply of men, but to go from there to assuming there’d even be a bias? It just never happens,” says Rory O’Driscoll, a managing director at Scale Venture Partners. “You’re just trying to make a buck.”

But research indicates that gender exerts a powerful influence on where the money goes in Silicon Valley. Venture capital firms with senior female investors are more likely to attract and close deals with women-led start-ups, concluded a Kauffman Foundation report.

That may be because data show that people are more trusting and comfortable working with people of their own sex, says Toby Stuart, a Harvard Business School professor who studies the topic.

He says that some men are reluctant to invest in women’s start-ups because “there are enough things that can go wrong with a high-risk, early-stage venture that if you’re worried about any interpersonal dynamic issues, why not do a deal that takes that out of the equation?”

Networks are crucial for fund-raising, because most investors don’t look at pitches that come over the transom. Since an overwhelming majority of venture capitalists are men and have gotten to the firms via start-ups or business schools — both places where women are underrepresented — women have a harder time gaining access to the Valley’s boys club, analysts say.

“Women tend to network with women, and men tend to network with men,” says Sharon Vosmek, C.E.O. of Astia. “It plays out on the golf course, in the boardroom and it’s certainly playing out in high-growth entrepreneurship.”

Ms. Fleming, who recently resigned as Crimson Hexagon’s chief executive because she felt she had drifted too far from the creative side of the business, is thinking of sending her 6-year-old daughter to an after-school science club, “to break the stereotype and introduce her to the fact that math and science are fun.”

Ms. Vijayashanker says she has seen more complaining than action about the dearth of women in tech, so she is outspoken about the topic. On her blog, Femgineer, she writes about “my experiences as a little femgineer in a mengineer’s world,” and speaks at conferences.

“If we want more women to be in tech, then we have to have a set of role models,” she says.

Ms. Watts said she has become a huge fan of women’s groups, like the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives. She mentors women at Stanford’s business school and meets regularly with a group of female C.E.O.’s so they can remind one another that they’re not alone.

For those with a bottom-line approach, analysts say it makes a difference when women are in the garages where tech start-ups are founded or the boardrooms where they are funded. Studies have found that teams with both women and men are more profitable and innovative. Mixed-gender teams have produced information technology patents that are cited 26 percent to 42 percent more often than the norm, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

In a study analyzing the relationship between the composition of corporate boards and financial performance, Catalyst, a research organization on women and business, found a greater return on investment, equity and sales in I.T. companies that have directors who are women.

Silicon Valley shows signs of changing, albeit slowly. New organizations are sprouting up for young women in tech, like Girls in Tech and Women 2.0. One-quarter of the partners at Kleiner Perkins, the venture capital firm, are women, and some of the hottest start-ups — including Gilt, Hunch, Ning, Eventbrite and Meebo — were founded or co-founded by women.

They could change things for the next generation of girls aspiring to engineering careers and women already entering the field, Ms. Fleming hopes. “If their success becomes visible, so girls can identify with it, they will think, ‘Oh yeah, anyone can do this,’” she says.

Original Source: New York Times©

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Observations From SXSW

I just made it back from Austin’s South By Southwest (SXSW or South By for short). Think spring break meets TED: part music & film festival, part interactive conference, and part college party.

As a panelist addressing entrepreneurship, it was a privilege to be a part of the agenda. As an industry veteran I was pleased by the number of women I saw on panels, in the halls, and as keynotes. It appeared to me that almost one third of the speakers were women. Cool and good on you SXSW for getting women to the party!

  • We are going to be the inventors of the technology in the future: in 2008 women were 57% of the undergraduate degrees, 18% of the Computer and Information Science degrees, and 15% of the Computer Science degrees; and 28% of computer scientist were women. (source: NCWIT)
Now let’s work on getting South By (and other tech conferences) to be a more comfortable place for women to participate - because almost as soon as I arrived I started receiving tweets and texts – mostly from women - about their perceptions of the scene.

There were some really basic things that should not be done at a professional conference that wants to attract diverse talent. Period. If we really want women and minorities to come to the party, the party must change. And I do not mean political correctness run amuck. I mean real change that includes some basic respect for people’s differences and what will or will not make them feel a part of the community.

I am going to make a HUGE assumption here that people would like to see more diversity at gatherings like South By. With that is mind, I thought I would get the conversation started by highlighting what I think SXSW did well and where they left me out.

What they did well:
  • Every panel I visited had at least one woman.
  • There were two female keynotes (one more than I have ever seen at a comparable conference) that drew big crowds.
  • SXSW gets it that people need to connect in person and create real relationships that will last. This message resonates with women; we value our relationships and will invest time and energy in them.
  • The program book was thoughtful enough to recommend I wear comfortable shoes (although I love my heels).
  • Crowd sourcing of panel topics and speakers: the impact was that you hosted relevant conversations where women were represented.

Where they left me out:
  • A corporate sponsor missed it when the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were the headlined guests. Really? Really?
  • Speaking of sponsor’s value alignment: Miller Light as a sponsor? Nothing screams college party quite the way that beer does.
  • The emphasis on night-time activity came off as more college party than comfortable networking space.
  • I leave it to my Latino / Latina friends to comment on the bag tag that said “nothing worth stealing in here, amigo” (included in the schwag bags). I won’t be using mine.
  • Where were the female VCs? I know a lot exited their partnerships this year, but none?
  • Crowd sourcing of panel topics and speakers: a not so great way to source topics from under-represented groups in technology.
As a conference that challenges its attendees to look at new business models and paradigms and new ways of engaging with our communities and society more broadly, how can we do it better next year?

I would like to hear from you – all of you – especially my female counterparts who found it difficult to find their own voices at SXSW and asked me to speak up. We each need to own our voice if we intend to create the change we desire.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Entrepreneur's Bill of Rights

The following is a guest post by Lara Druyan, General Partner, Allegis Capital and member of the Astia Investor Advisory Council.

I was recently on a panel for SVASE in which I was asked what opinion I had for entrepreneurs raising money. This question arises pretty regularly. So I thought I would take a stab at memorializing some of these thoughts.

Raising cash especially in the current environment is hard. However entrepreneurs have power in the process. Hopefully you have a selection from whom you raise money. Sometimes that isn't the case and you take money from whomever is willing to invest. If you do have a choice or even if you don't you should understand from whom you are taking money. This sounds evident except many entrepreneurs don't know much about either the firm (if a venture fund is involved) or the partner at that firm (often more important than the firm itself).

Entrepreneurs, you have a right to know the person and firm to which you will be wedded in your endeavor and make no mistake you will be getting married. You know for better... for worse... In other words, do as much diligence on your investors as we do on you. To help you with this I suggest the following:

1) Ask for CEO and Founder references. Call people on the list and not on the list. LinkedIn is a great resource to enable this activity.

2) Be urgent about the process the investors are going through when evaluating your company. Are they asking for customer references as a "way to get started" in diligence? Or are they offering their own customer introductions as a form of diligence? Note: asking for your customer references should come late in the process - not at the beginning.

3) Do your homework about the firm. Do they typically make seed investments? Later stage? If you're raising a seed round think carefully about pursuing a $400M fund's money.

4) Find out how many boards your prospective investor is on. Hint: more than ten means that the investor is not going to spend much if any time with you.

5) Figure out what matters to you in an investor. Are you seeking leads, advice, recruiting help? Assess the fit between your needs and what your investor offers (as told by references).

Remember even if it doesn't feel like it you do have power in the financing process.


Lara Druyan is a General Partner at Allegis Capital a Silicon Valley based venture capital firm. Allegis invests in early stage companies developing enabling technology and software to serve emerging markets. Specific areas of interest include: enabling hardware devices, enterprise software solutions, broadband and wireless delivery techniques, and Internet infrastructure and services.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Astia in Conversation with TuitionCoach

Astia client, TuitionCoach, the leading website for personalized college financial guidance, was recently acquired by SimpleTuition, Inc. the premier destination for personalized student loan research and comparison. Astia CEO, Sharon Vosmek, interviewed TuitionCoach CEO and Founder, Monisha Perkash, to discuss the exit and her next moves.

SV: Congratulations on the recent acquisition of TuitionCoach! In a tough year it is impressive to see this exit. Can you talk about what the acquisition process was like for you as a founder and how you dealt with the opportunities and challenges along the way? And tell us a bit about your new role at SimpleTuition.

MP: Thanks, Sharon. Well, I'd say one word describes best what the acquisition process was like: roller-coaster (wait is that two words?). In completing an acquisition, there are so many moving parts (market-timing, financial goals of the respective parties, legal issues, technical issues, and logistical issues). Also, many parties are involved including the Company's founders, the team, and various classes of shareholders, as well as the interested acquirers' management teams, employees, and Boards. And of course, each of these parties has opinions about the course of things. So while on one hand, you're excited about the prospects of an acquisition, on the other hand, with so many moving parts and so many parties involved, you are bound to hit some rough patches along the way. Hence, the roller-coaster.

How we dealt with opportunities and challenges along the way: communications and negotiations. Through this process we learned the importance of understanding the goals of each party, highlighting the areas where there is alignment, and speaking frankly about areas where there isn't. That's where the real work is... getting to alignment, if not in goals, then in acceptable outcomes. And it's through these difficult discussions that we often realized whether a prospective acquirer was a good fit or not.

My new role at SimpleTuition is VP Advisory Products; I'm the general manager for a suite of existing and future web-based tools that provide families with personalized advice on the paying-for-college process. This role is a pretty natural extension of what I did previously with TuitionCoach.

SV: As the founder and CEO, can you speak to the vision you originally had for TuitionCoach and how does that map to the path that the company actually took?

MP: Actually, this acquisition allows us to get even closer to the vision that we originally had for TuitionCoach: to be the trusted online destination for college funding assistance. It turns out this vision was one that is shared by SimpleTuition; what differentiated our two companies was that we addressed consumer needs at different points in the customer lifecycle. Also, TuitionCoach and SimpleTuition held a common value: that there needs to be greater transparency in the paying-for-college process so that families can be better informed consumers of higher education. So, in many ways, we shared the same DNA which made the acquisition even more compelling.

SV: TuitionCoach built a distinguished online service that parents, students, financial professionals and counselors could all benefit from. How did you identify the target market for your site?

MP: We provided offline financial aid counseling to thousands of families before we ever wrote one line of code. From working with them, and also from being aware of those who could not afford private consulting, we knew that there was a huge demand for affordable yet personalized college funding guidance. So we conducted focus groups to further understand their pain points and devised automated solutions that would address their needs. We like to think that we are to private college financial consultants what TurboTax is to accountants.

SV: Your company has strategically and effectively used modern technologies such as webinars and Paul’s Corner blog. How did you decide on this strategy and what are the next steps for the site going forward?

MP: The Internet provides such a rich medium for interactivity and to "humanize" a guidance process you can't get from just reading a book. So, in building TuitionCoach we explored technologies and strategies that would provide customers with the richest, most robust user experience. You'll see even more of this approach in an upcoming redesign of TuitionCoach.

SV: You have been with Astia since 2007. Tell us a bit about how you came to us and how your relationship with Astia affected your business?

MP: I first got to know Astia by coming to one of its workshops on entrepreneurship. In that room of predominantly women, I witnessed a unique atmosphere: one that fostered collaboration, mentorship, and humility, elements that I hadn't always found present in a roomful of zealous entrepreneurs. Because our start-up was also raising capital, we decided to apply to Astia. It was one of the smartest things that we did. Through the mentorship (and tough-love) I received, my business plan was transformed and my pitch was sharpened. Through the Astia network, I was able to gain access to top-notch legal and financial advisory. And most importantly, I was surrounded by an incredible community of fellow entrepreneurs who not only helped me with day-to-day challenges, but also inspired me to keep going, even through the toughest of times.

SV: Oh, and of course, whenever we see an entrepreneur like you exit, we have to ask… when will you be starting your next start-up and do you already have something that you are tossing around in your head?

MP: My new employer might read this interview, so ask me later. Just kidding! The answer is I'm really not sure. I do know that I've been bitten by the bug for entrepreneurship and it will always be a part of who I am. And what is yet another very positive aspect of our recent acquisition is that I do play a very entrepreneurial role at SimpleTuition and still feel quite energized by working towards that huge vision we've had all along.