Four ways to get more women leading tech startups

There are not enough women leading tech start-ups. My last article explored the why, where, and why– why bother getting more women leaders, where do leaders come from, and why girls don’t pursue tech degrees and careers. While the research has been showing the same causes over and over again, here’s what to do about it. Believe and act — believe it is possible to change the situation, and take action.

1. Build the Pipeline.

“The key is to identify girls’ interests at an early age, provide them with the opportunities to learn about math, science, and technology, and link them together in a support network to keep them motivated.”
– Sally Ride, NASA astronaut and founder, The Sally Ride Science Club

• Start early. Help the girls in your life learn to love mathematics and science and to envision themselves pursuing a related career.
• Ask your schools to sponsor a MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement) or some similar support program. Colorado MESA is a state-wide pre-college program that provides after school math- and science-based learning activities to over 3,600 preK-12 students(in 2009), with over 78 percent from ethnic and gender groups that are under represented in engineering career fields. It works. 100 percent of MESA seniors graduate from high school and historically, more than 90 percent have enrolled in college with over 80 percent enrolling in a math/science related major ( MESA is in many other states.
• Become a sponsor of a support program, create an internship, or fund a scholarship.
• Encourage participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs through Girl Scouts and other groups (e.g., University of Colorado Women in Engineering group is sponsoring Girl Scouts math and science badge days for students in September 2010 (

2. Identify and Promote Role Models. There are many successful female tech entrepreneurs including long-time veterans as well as up-and-coming leaders:

Margaret “Meg” Hansson has led 7 start-ups including Erth which has patented technologies to dispose of waste.
Diane Green, co-founder and CEO of VMware, transformed a 1998 start-up into a $2B public company leading the virtualization and cloud infrastructure.
Janet Eden Harris, previous CEO of Umbria, a marketing intelligence company sold to J.D. Powers, is now a leader at MarketForce.
Caterina Fake, cofounder of photo-sharing leader Flickr which was sold to Yahoo for a reported $35 million, is now working on the next venture.

• Write about, talk about, promote, and get to know the women leading technology start-ups. Find ways to show it has been done in order to inspire more girls and women to see themselves as leaders in the tech industry.
• We need successful role models to mentor other girls and women. Encourage them to envision themselves successful in this leadership role.

3. Improve Access to Funding. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported in its 6/25/2010 article entitled’Women Entrepreneurs Still Struggle to Get Funded,’ that “Women launch nearly half of all startups, yet they lead only 7 percent of companies backed by venture capital.” Wall Street Journal reporter Shira Ovide found that “only 11 percent of U.S. firms with venture-capital backing in 2009 had current or former female CEOs or female founders.” The I/O Ventures challenge as reported by Lindsay Holloway ( is a start, but not enough.

• We need supportive investors like Fred Wilson and Brad Feld to challenge the rest of the VC world to jump on the bandwagon to mentor and fund women-led businesses.
• Establish funds that focus on supporting female entrepreneurs such as the now-closed Women’s Equity Fund.

4. Think Bigger. Women entrepreneurs may benefit from having a bigger vision. In a series of focus groups my consulting firm ran on behalf of the Women’s Equity Fund and Boulder Technology Incubator, we concluded that female technology entrepreneurs were typically developing business plans that could generate up to $5M in revenues. This size firm is not attractive to traditional tech funding sources such as venture capitalists. With the right strategic advice, many of these businesses could become much more successful.

• Women technology entrepreneurs should set a larger vision, develop business plans, and build teams to grow $100M+ businesses.
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Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Radish Systems, is a serial technology entrepreneur. The story of her last start-up which grew from $0 to where it was sold for over $40 million in less than six years is included, along with her strategies for success, in the Amazon-bestseller Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: Success Strategies for a Rewarding Personal and Business Life.,, and @TheresaSzczurek on twitter.


Categories: Company Perspectives, Management & Leadership