Female Founders: The Future of Tech

Female Founders: The Future of Tech

Caroline Winnett, Executive Director, Berkeley SkyDeck

An alumnus of UC Berkeley, Caroline leads a program that hosts over one hundred companies per year at SkyDeck. Prior to SkyDeck, she was a serial entrepreneurand Co-founded the NeuroFocus company.

The State of Women Leaders in Tech
It is almost axiomatic at this point that women are coming from behind in the technology race. Though we are making headway, the road is steep. The stats tell the tale of the challenges in this male dominated arena. Fortune reported in 2018 that the average venture capital investment in male lead companies was $17.3 million, compared to $5.9 million in female led companies. A study by BCG uncovered a surprising counter statistic that startups founded and co-founded by women actually performed better over time, generating 10 percent more in cumulative revenue over a five year period.

Many theorists have speculated about this difference in initial VC funding, suggesting that as the majority of investors are male, they are more likely to fund male led companies. Silicon Valley Bank’s 2019 Startup Outlook Survey interviewed the players female founders, mentors, and the investors and discovered another side that the investor pitch is harder for women. Women who pitched their ideas to investors reported feeling more 'pushback' than their male counterparts to prove their expertise. They were also less likely to pushback against the criticism they received.

Despite these statistics,2018 was a year of progress for women in tech, both in VC funding and in leadership. Fortune reported that the female led startups received $2.88 billion in 2019, compared to $1.9 billion in 2017(though the percentage of funding given to female led startups 2.2 percent of total VC invested for the year was the same). SVB’s survey showed that while the percentage of U.S. startups that have women in executive positions declined in 2018, now in 2019, more than 50 percent of U.S. startups have at least one female executive. However, we still have a long way to go. SVB’s statistics showed that in China, more than 70 percent of startup executives are women. Also, according to SVB, when you look at executive roles for women in startups worldwide, only five percent of startups have a female CEO, while in 63 percent of those surveyed, and a female executive was the head of HR.

Challenges Faced by Women Who Want to Become Leaders in Tech
In my experience as a woman startup founder and as an
advisor to startups, there are more than simply funding challenges which can prevent women from becoming powerful and successful leaders in technology. Some of these include:
•Lack of early encouragement in childhood to pursue tech & leadership careers
•Less positive reinforcement throughout their careers to lead and be powerful
•Fewer female mentors available to exemplify and support women’s advancement in tech

Despite these hurdles, the 2019 SVB survey of healthcare and tech startups showed that one in four startups have at least one female founder. As a female executive leader of an accelerator, I work with startups from all over the world male and female led. We believe in 'the acceleration of world changing ideas'from startups, and we firmly believe that those ideas will come from both women and men. Women and men should be inspired and encouraged to change the world.

When IT comes to the future of tech, women have a vital role to play, and we see this happening now

Inspiring Women to be Leaders in Tech
As a female founder of a neuroscience startup and with two successful exits, I can tell you (with scientific evidence) that women’s brains work differently than men’s brains. This difference is one of the reasons(I believe)that startups with more women in leadership statistically perform better. Ernst & Young and PIIE discovered in a 2016 survey reported by Inc. that ‘increasing the percentage of women in top spots from zero to 30 percent is associated with a 15 percent jump in profits’ for companies. This is not surprising when one considers the nature of startups, and what is needed to succeed. Women’s brains are hard-wired to form meaningful connections, making us are natural-born leaders who understand the value of team dynamics and culture. This is a vital skill for running a startup.

With this in mind, I believe that we need to be intentional about how we inspire women to be leaders in tech. Here is some of the feedback I give to women startup founders:
1.Believe that you have earned the position of leader of a startup. This is a positive and confident mindset that women need to cultivate. Present yourself as having the confidence and credentials to take the helm of your organization. Don’t equivocate.
2.Replace ‘I can’t do this’ with ‘How can I do this?’ Lack of ‘the right experience’ should not stop you.
3.Your unique background has prepared you. Own it

Human brains have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in a precivilization environment where size and strength were prime factors. Today, survival is not necessarily linked to size and strength. When it comes to the future of tech, women have a vital role to play,and we see this happening now.