About Astia

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sharon Vosmek Interviews with www.EcoSalon.com

Sharon Vosmek is being interviewed for an www.ecosalon.com piece. Here are the questions she has addressed, we thought you might be interested in hearing what she had to say.

Are VCs focused enough on supporting women and minority entrepreneurs?

I don't see this as the work of VCs. Their job is to make investments that return the best IRR to their LPs. And what we know about this is that companies that have women in executive leadership, outperform those that do not. Therefore, what we expect to see is a greater number and percentage of investments going in to companies with women in those roles. Not because they need support, but because they outperform the market.

Should they be focused on groups, as such? Why delineate between the bearers of good ideas?

I think the first answer addresses this.

Is there biased against efforts spearheaded by women and/or minorities? Why?

No 1. In our society, men and women are still by-and-large in separate business networks. And no. 2, 95% of VCs and 85% of Angels are men. How this plays out is as follows. VC and Angel investment relies heavily on trusted business relationships - often for early stage investors, the only risk that can be mitigated is that of the individuals involved and if they are known to the investor. Trusted business relationships are always going to win in this scenario. Therefore if you take points 1 and 2, you can see how within the high-growth space, groups who are not naturally in each others' networks, will suffer as a result. Entrepreneurs will suffer because they will lack access to capital. Investors will suffer because they will lack access to the full compliment of deals. This is a societal issue, not one of VC or Angel per se.

Are women and minorities even stepping to plate to play as entrepreneurs anyway? If not, why not?

Yes they are.

What are the benefits of targeting investments in these groups? To society? To theeconomy? To investors?

The benefits are three fold as the question presumes. For investors - higher returns where women are in leadership with men. For society - half the population's talents can be fully realized (women are half of MBAs, half of PhDs, more than half of all college graduates - there is an abundant pool of talent at the ready). For the economy - it means jobs. If women had the same access to capital as their male counterparts we would see 6 million jobs added to the economy in 5 years, 2million in year one alone*. This is the economic recovery we all seek. Seems a simple solution.

*source: Babson College

Monday, February 7, 2011

NYC vs Boston

What follows is a guest post by Astia NYC Vice President, Rob Delman. Welcome to the team, Rob!

Have you been following the story about whether NYC or Boston has more VC seeds deals? It is like debating who is better, the Yankees or the Red Sox (although we all know the answer to that question!)

According to a study by CB insights, when it comes to seed investments by venture capitalists, data suggests NY’s seed venture capital investments are gaining momentum at a faster rate than Massachusetts. Q1 and Q2 2010 saw an increase in seed venture capital investments in both Massachusetts and New York but the growth rate and the absolute number of deals was greater in NY in both quarters as detailed below.

Venture accelerators like Astia are enthusiastic about the data as we love to see an increase of quality deal flow regardless of the geography. This is more validation that small business and entrepreneurship continue to be the catalyst for growth in our country. The recent announcement by the White House and creation of Startup America reinforces our belief that entrepreneurship and small business are the main drivers of job growth and wealth creation.

Astia and Golden Seeds (www.goldenseeds.com) recently shared a booth at the Funding Post NYC Venture Capital and Angel Showcase in NYC where over 30 VC firms and several hundred entrepreneurs met to see if there was a match of interests. The entire scene was spectacular – clean tech, life science, consumer goods, technology and media sectors were all represented. Some of the ideas sounded futuristic but regardless, the energy was overwhelming. One could not help but feel that the economic recovery was going to happen at that very moment in that very room.

So does it really matter if NYC or Boston has more deals or invested capital? Of course not – what really matters is Astia and other great organizations participate in the entrepreneurial revolution that is again sweeping our nation.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Astia Interview on BloombergTV Street Smarts

Sitting in this chair, I had to laugh - maybe it was the makeup they were caking onto my face or the audience of people watching me get done up, or maybe it was just my uncontainable joy at how far Astia has come. A year ago I wasn't envisioning Astia being on Bloomberg TV, but you know - if someone had told me this is where I would be today, I would have believed it because that's what our community is capable of.

What brought Astia to Bloomberg TV today? Was it the stellar entrepreneurs that are building our reputation? The all star team of advisors that supports our community? The sponsors who empower us to do what we do and to do more of it? I'm sure you know the answer, it's all of the above.

So how do I manage to balance myself on the stilt-like seat I'm given and serve as representative for all the aforementioned and do it justice in 7 minutes flat? Well, that's just not possible but I did my best to express the Street Smart hosts Carol Massar and Matt Miller just what we're made of and why the viewers should stay tuned for more from the Astia community.

I was joined by Astia client Alexa von Tobel of LearnVest who has been remarkably successful and continues to stay engaged with the Astia community. Alexa spoke on the fact that "in general it's hard to start a business, and I started during a recession." And Astia was there to help, that's what a community does. Sometimes you switch hats - sometime you are the one offering the help and sometimes you are receiving, and that's what keeps Astia alive.

It was easy to gush with enthusiasm when I explained that Astia clients are exceptional. Carol Massar asked me why something like Astia is needed, and simply said men and women are in separate business networks and 98% of venture capital is held by men. How do we address that? Build a support community of men and women.

That's where the pain point lies. It's not that women entrepreneurs, like Alexa couldn't have done it on their own, it's that she's in a high growth market that requires fast capital, fast growth, and real commitment to milestones, which is very unique business process and there are 'been there done that folks' who can aid in finding shortcuts to pathways to success.

Matt Miller wanted to know, why are we doing this? What's the big picture?

Jobs, Innovation and Economic Growth

We're looking for innovation and we're looking for a recovery, and we know that if women had the same access to capital as their male counterparts, we would see 6 million jobs added to the economy in the next 5 years, 2 million jobs in the next year alone (thank you Babson for the numbers). That's our economic recovery right there. Just ensuring that women were able to gain access to capital.

The interview closed with a simple question for Alexa, so is LearnVest hiring? Yes, yes they are.

Astia Invited to Join White House Startup America Initiative

Last week it was made clear that supporting high-growth entrepreneurs is a proven pathway to job creation and economic growth.

Astia client, Jenny Zeszut, Founder & CEO of Scout Labs and I had the good fortune to be invited to the launch of the Startup America Initiative at the White House on Monday, January 31st. The Startup America Partnership is the private sector counterpart to the Obama administration’s effort to spark high-growth firms in the U.S.

The room was filled with contagious energy as host Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President and Associate Director for Technology within the Office of Science & Technology Policy made opening remarks. His comments were followed by
Zoe Damacela, entrepreneur since the young age of 14! Opening comments were followed by a panel of both public and private sector luminaries; Gary Locke, Secretary of the Department of Commerce; Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of the Department of Energy; Karen Mills, Administrator of the Small Business Administration; Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council; Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; Steve Case, Founder AOL and Chairman of the Case Foundation, Carl Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation, and Brad Feld of the Foundry Group and Tech Stars.

What was particularly inspiring was the collaboration and commitment on multiple levels from those involved.
The Startup America partnership marshals and highlights commitments from private sector institutions that want to spur entrepreneurship in the U.S. From Kauffman and Case Foundations to Intel and IBM to Tech Stars and Astia.

It is critical to note that Astia's participation was made possible through the generous support of AOL, AOL Ventures, The Althea Foundation, Fenwick & West, Moss Adams LLC, and Silicon Valley Bank - who together signed up to match funding received from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

These sponsors enabled Astia to commit to serving twice the number of entrepreneurs in North America. (If you are interested in seeing our numbers continue to increase, there is still time to join the sponsor roll and create real and measurable impact for high-growth start-ups.)

In the audience, I was surrounded by entrepreneurs filled with inspiring stories of hardship and success. It was inspiring to be in a room full of the ideas that will lead to future Fortune 500 companies. Entrepreneurs ranged from 19 year old Zoe Damacela, a fashion entrepreneur since age 14, to Astia’s own Jennifer Zeszut, Founder and CEO of software company Scout Labs (sold to Lithium in 2010), which uses technology to determine brand perceptions across the web. Jennifer was one of a small collection of entrepreneurs who were invited to share their stories. Many of you will recall that we honored Jenny at the 6th Annual Astia Awards in December with the Technology Innovator Award. She continues to inspire us with the words she shared this week at the White House:

"Entrepreneurs are a different kind of breed… so, What makes us go?... Think of us as sled dogs… we are born to run and chase new ideas. We don’t wait for people to create jobs for us, we are job creators… And more importantly than just the number of jobs that we create, it is the kind of jobs we create, the kind of work that we do…[it is] passionate work. We love what we do…the work we do is also really productive work. If you want to increase the productivity of America, you should come and walk the halls of any one of our companies… So we are entrepreneurs. Fund us. Support us. Connect us. And let us run, we will help pull America forward."

Our task now is to do just that.

Astia stands committed and ready. We see this initiative to support high-growth entrepreneurs as validation that what Astia has been doing for 13 years is not just important work, it is the proven pathway to jobs, innovation and the economic recovery we all seek.

Stay tuned for more.

And for those of you who don’t know Jenny’s story, keep reading...

My Astia story:

I was a first-time CEO when someone recommended I join Astia. I wasn’t even sure why I would need Astia at the time. I was just about to complete the Scout Labs application and things were going excellently - I was well-funded, had a strong team, etc. When I was selected to be part of Astia and went through the equivalent of CEO Bootcamp – I received business coaches, mentors, speaking coaches, pitch hel
p, VC access and so much more. It was an amazing growth experience. But I didn’t realize just how valuable the Astia network was until Scout Labs, like so many startups do, hit tough times. Our committed funding fell through at the last minute (credit-crunch days of summer 2009) and I was not able to pay my own team. (Miraculously, they all kept working). Externally, Scout Labs continued to grow by leaps and bounds, but it was an incredibly stressful time. Just when I needed it most, the Astia support network, like shoulders, rose up from beneath me to lift me back up. I received encouragement, emotional support, constant phone calls and TONS of VC introductions right when we needed it most. We did secure funding (in the nick of time!) and Scout Labs was acquired – a good exit for all – six months later, in May of 2010. My Astia coaches were by my side through good times and bad will be life-long mentors and friends."