Where are all the women in the Start-Up nation?

In a country which is praised for its innovation and equality, it is surprising how scarce women entrepreneurs are.


In the tech world, people keep lamenting the lack of women who are running start ups- according to Allysin Kapin at Fast Company- Robert Scoble and Michael Arrington are “dying to write about [women startups]."  From what people are saying, there are not enough women around to write about.


I bristled when I first read this but I didn''t really think about it because as long as people were creating cool new technology, I wasn''t concerned how it was being made (kind of like sausages) but now that I am in the thick of creating a startup myself (we are in “stealth mode” which means I can’t really write about it yet but I will soon so stay tuned), I see that there are really very few women who are starting up.  I have heard that the percentage of women who are launching startups is about 4%- and this seems about right (or perhaps even a stretch.) 


It is hard for me to say why there aren''t more women in startups especially because it is such an exciting field right now which is, in my opinion, is as great an environment for women as it is for men.  If anything, people are seeking out great women to support although there is no doubt that women need to go after it themselves- nothing is being handed out for free.


I have never felt that it was a "boys club" even though I am often surrounded by men.  In fact, my experience creating a start up has been one of the best that I have ever had.  I feel honored to have connected with such talented and amazing people and was lucky enough to have met Jeff Pulver early on and gotten his support and backing.  I can say that it is a ridiculously hard lifestyle and not for the fainthearted (male or female).  


Starting up is a beautiful and thrilling kind of hell.  But if this isn''t stopping men, why is it stopping women?


Penelope Trunk (who has three startups under her belt) stated in a post on Techcrunch that everyone should just “stop telling women to do start ups” which springs from a previous article that she wrote saying that “Women don’t want to run start ups because they would rather have children”. The backlash against this was fast and furious- including another post on Techcrunch- this time by Alexia Tsotsis entitled “Stop telling women NOT to do start ups” I have to admit that I hated what Penelope wrote but she made some good points about how hard it is to find a life/work balance with a startup and family. 

But Penelope, please don’t throw out some blanket statement in the name of all women that we would- or should-

have to choose between motherhood or startups.


What about the women who want to have children AND want to have startups? Hasn’t someone already written the feminine mystique? Do women really need to question whether they can have a career and a family at the same time?   What about women who don''t have a choice?   Life  is hard-  if you are going to struggle anyway, you may as well struggle to do something amazing.


I would hate to think that years of education, preparation and hard work will be flushed down the proverbial toilet because there is no room for families in the startup world. 


Ultimatly, a lot of the startup roadblock is a lifestyle issue. Startups require you to work harder than you can imagine for a small amount of money with a high rate of failure.  Although the payoff,  if or when it comes, is great- most parents want more security than that.


This is not just a problem for women, as Jacob Ner-David wrote a great blog post about his reaction to Steve Jobs biography saying “it is only reading the book that I realize how much he sacrificed upon the alter of creating cool technology.”  He also points out a very big problem with accelerator programs, which is that they are designed for one kind of entrepreneur- the kind with no strings attached and no other reponsibilities.


Startups are about identifying a problem and creating solutions- and it might be time to turn the mirror around on the scene itself.  How can we innovate to include women, to accomodate families and children? How can we tackle the life/work balance instead of scoffing at the idea?


I have a few suggestions:

  • Create virtual accelerators where people can do most of their work from home or create one which is "family friendly" and flexible
  • Fund women by allotting a percentage of funds to women led startups 
  • Gear some events for families.  Most conferences are just grown ups playing with cool toys anyway :)
  • Support great ideas and connect women with the techies who can make it happen (beacuse women tend ont to be gearheads- I have no scientific evidence to back this claim up)

 Starting up is hell- now, don''t you want to do one to?

As always, you can find me on twitter @sarahnadav