Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Women say gender inequity not biggest issue for startups

Women say gender inequity not biggest issue for startups: "Mary Del Brady and Angela Kennedy have no time for hand-wringing over the fact that they are anomalies -- veteran female entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh's male-dominated high technology industry.

This points to the fact that we need a high-tech youth technology summit. If I was elected State Senator, I'd be able to help start such events.


Furthermore, a look at the number of women in the high tech field is only outpaced by the lack of women in politics. We need good candidates who are women. We need good campaign workers who are women too.

If you'd like to help, or if you want help -- ask.

I could use more women on my side as well.

1 comment:

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Women say gender inequity not biggest issue for startups

Tuesday, April 05, 2005
By Corilyn Shropshire, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As they prepare to join executives from more than 20 other startups making pitches for money today at the 3 Rivers Venture Fair, Mary Del Brady and Angela Kennedy have no time for hand-wringing over the fact that they are anomalies -- veteran female entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh's male-dominated high technology industry.

John Beale, Post-Gazette
Mary Del Brady, of Redpath Integrated Pathology, left, and Angela C. Kennedy, of Carnegie Speech, will be pitching to investors at 3 Rivers Ventures Fair.
Click photo for larger image.

Investors don't care if the CEO is "man, woman or monkey" -- what matters is the deal, said Kennedy, chief executive officer of Oakland-based Carnegie Speech. She, along with Melanie McNeilly, her vice president of finance and operations, and Brady, CEO of North Side-based Redpath Pathology, will be the only women making the 10-minute presentations.

While they may be focused on proving their firms are the "next big thing," the three women represent what observers say is a dearth of women in decision-making roles in the high-tech industry.

Although the number of women graduating with and pursuing advanced technical degrees is climbing, parity is a long way off, said Jean-Marie Navetta, of the American Association of University Women, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization. "There are still big gaps," she said.

The low numbers of women with careers in science-related fields have been the subject of national debate, fueled recently by comments from Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, who questioned whether women are "hard-wired" for careers in science. Indeed, many women working in technology say their burden, if they carry one, comes not from being female but from not being formally trained in technical fields.

"I frequently find myself in the position of having to prove myself because I don't have an engineering or technology background," said Karen Kovatch, who was a communications executive at the former Downtown tech firm FreeMarkets. She has launched her own tech-focused marketing and public relations firm, Kovatch Communications.

Kennedy, a computer scientist by training, said she doesn't feel she has to prove her technical acumen when she is surrounded by men. In fact, she finds that on occasion, testosterone-filled rooms offer her a bit of a boost.

"Sometimes I think people do remember me because I'm a woman," she said. "If they've talked to nine or 10 guys that day and I'm the only woman they've talked to ..."

But most women don't consider that a viable strategy. Colleagues and prospective financiers want to see competency -- and then, if there was a bias, it falls away.

"I think I come at it pretty gender blind, and I assume the other side will to," Kennedy said. "I owe some amount of my success to the fact that I do it that way."

Both Kennedy and Brady, who hope to raise up to $2 million and $4 million, respectively, by summer's end, see venture fairs and other face-to-face meetings with prospective investors as a very limited window of opportunity. That means they must be more concerned about passing investors' muster than about how many other women are in their field.

Yet when they do go knocking on the doors of banks and venture capitalists, they are likely to find that most of those answering are men.

Despite the tech industry's late '90s boom, only 9 percent of management-level venture capitalists were women in 2000, down from 10 percent five years earlier, according to the Diana Project, a research effort by several universities to track the development of women-owned businesses.

Recent statistics compiled by the Washington D.C.-based Center for Women's Business Research show that in the first three quarters of 2004, only 4 percent of venture-backed firms were women-led. That falls slightly lower than the Diana Project's older statistics showing that 5 percent of women business owners from 1997 to 2000 -- tech's go-go heyday -- received venture backing.

Patricia Greene, one of the Diana Project study's co-authors, and dean of the undergraduate school at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., said that the low percentage of women seeking and receiving equity funding could be a "self-fulfilling prophecy."

"The network is largely male and the people they know to bring into their network is largely male," she said.

The study argues that venture capital deals come from relationships, and female entrepreneurs don't always have those connections.

But it's not just the lack of women with deep pockets to invest in startups that is apparent in Pittsburgh -- it's the lack of deep pockets all around.

"There are very few venture capitalists in Pittsburgh, period," said Carolyn Green, director of the office of enterprise development, health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. "Women shouldn't be too hung-up on the gender thing, I don't think investors would care if they thought Martians came through -- they are simply looking for deals that are providing the rate of return of investors."

There are some exceptions, she said, specifically naming Catherine Mott, managing partner at the Blue Tree Capital Group LLC , a so-called "angel" investment firm which provides early seed money to companies and entrepreneurs still in the conceptualizing stage.

Mott and partner, Tom Jones, provide an organized network that connects investors with startup firms. Mott said she never lets the lack of women in the tech sector and at industry-related events dismay her.

"I have a mission when I walk into a room, and I go after it," she said. "The first thing on my mind is making money," not whether the person she's talking with is a man or a woman.

While some cultures may frown upon aggressive women, Kovatch believes women in high-tech fields are better off being themselves. "I'm upfront about who I am," she said, describing herself as a "Type A" personality. "Either you like my style or you don't."

(Corilyn Shropshire can be reached at cshropshire@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1413.)