Starting a company is especially tough in the early days. The learning curve is huge and the hurdles can be daunting. When I started my first company, The CityStreet, I was on my own and I was proud. I was 23 years old and ready to take on the business community with my new networking site. I rented a desk at an office near my house and tried to make it as a sole founder. I failed.
After going on The Apprentice, I had the pleasure of serving VinobyVana at Wayra, one of the UK's top accelerators. At that point, I still didn't really understand what a startup accelerator was. When my co-founder, Joris, and I were asked to be Entrepreneurs in Residence at Wayra, I was excited but just thought it was a shared office space. I have been happily surprised over the past 11 months. Not only have we been involved with Wayra, Telefonica's Corporate Accelerator, but also with Mass Challenge, a US accelerator that has a great reputation for their huge network, social impact and also not taking any equity in any of their startups.
I spoke with the directors of both Wayra and Mass Challenge in order to understand the accelerator space and learned what they are missing: WOMEN.
First up: Gary Stewart, Director Wayra UK.
Do you see any evolution in the rate at which female founders are applying to Wayra?
We are seeing more female applications, but that might be because we are more actively scouting female entrepreneurs and scrutinising our own unconscious biases. It helps that our female founders are among some of our most successful companies, which helps them to inspire future cohorts and to recommend other talented female founders that know that Wayra actively encourages a diverse and supportive environment. The fact that half of our staff is made up of women, and that we've actively recruited female mentors, also helps. In short, it's not a coincidence - it's acknowledging that the tech industry has this problem, and taking active, conscious steps to solve it. Isn't that what entrepreneurs are supposed to do?
Next up: Diane Perlman, Director of Mass Challenge, provides some complementary insights.
Do you see any evolution in the rate at which female founders are applying to Mass Challenge?
We have always had a great percentage of female founders apply to MassChallenge. We have this track record because of the broad community we have built through our corporate and foundation partners, university, and community partners, and our wide group of mentors. We also accept all types of businesses, so some women who may actually have tech companies but don't feel comfortable in the "tech" world or identifying themselves as "tech founders" apply to MassChallenge. MassChallenge also offers a supportive community, which attracts many female founders.
The overall number of applications to MassChallenge has also grown year on year, so therefore the number of female founders has increased. But we've always had around 38% female-founded startups which is pretty amazing for this industry.
Although Mass Challenge and Wayra are entirely different, both Diane and Gary touch on some key points about accelerator programs' lack of women. As Gary mentions, female founders are usually some of the best entrepreneurs, so it doesn't make sense that the startup scene is still dominated by men! The main issue that both accelerators face is a lack of applications from female candidates. Which is why we need more females applying to startup accelerators!
One of my favorite resources to find accelerators is F6S, so check it out to find the appropriate accelerator and apply directly on their website!