A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending a workday at Busboys and Poets, chatting with other members of the D.C. startup community. One thing I mentally noted was that the other three people at my table were all women, and all were in the process of launching their own startups. Their level of involvement and tenacity in the startup community is a pleasant surprise in contrast to my experience of the highly male-centric startup scene in San Francisco. What pleased me more was that they found the idea of three women launching their own startups as something that was not terribly out of the blue, but rather typical of the D.C. Tech scene.
Michael Arrington wrote a scathing article in 2010 about women in startups, challenging that the lack of a female presence at tech conferences and meet-ups were not a byproduct of male exclusion but rather that only a small number of women have an actual interest in entrepreneurship. Even closer to home, on BostInno last week Janet Aronica of Shareaholic, shared her opinions on the lack of women in tech.
Neither is clearly the case in the District, which has seen a general surge in the startup community with many of the founders and entrepreneurs being women.
So what is it about the D.C. area that draws such highly motivated and driven women to the tech and startup community?
Marci Harris, co-founder of Popvox, was recently mentioned in Fast Company’s 25 Women-Run Startups to Watch and shared some insights on women in D.C. startups. Marci commented, “…it’s been said many times, it’s just much easier to start a startup now than ever before. All the various modular pieces (Facebook page, Twitter, etc.) you can put together make it easier to start a business. What could have cost you $4 million not long ago can be done now for $400,000.” When asked about whether DC helps foster an environment that allows women to succeed, Marci responded, “D.C. is a very female friendly environment for women to find their place, whether it be in government or a non-profit. They can really create their own opportunities here.”
I also spoke with Rebecca Thorman, Director of PR, Media and Communications for the startup Alice.com, who remarked that, “DC is unique in that there are so many highly ambitious young professionals and entrepreneurs here in general. So, of course, a high percentage of women I know in DC are finding success in their careers and businesses…I often tell the story of attending a DC Tech event…and not only being floored that there were a handful of women at the event, but that when the floor was opened for anyone to speak, a number of women got up and talked about their companies.”
One major asset the D.C. startup community has that many other tech hubs do not is Springboard Enterprises, which serves as an incubator and a networking point with investors for women-led startups. Lisa Morales-Hellebo, CEO and founder of Shopsy, has recently been nominated for a TechCrunch Crunchie and is a member of Springboard. Lisa cites Springboard as being a major method of support for women in the startup community, utilizing it to find funding and developmental support. According to Lisa, one person in particular mobilized DC’s entrepreneurial spirit in women: Jen Consalvo of TechCocktail.
“A huge player in the DC tech scene,” Jen was part of AOL when it existed in the Capital and helped create the foundation for the current DC startup landscape. “It takes just one person to set the example to set the ball in motion,” says Lisa. “Perhaps Jen was that person in the DC area that set the ball in motion and started pulling the female leaders out into the events and then into the spotlight. I know that I am proud to be in the company of the amazing women in DC tech.”
Another reason as to why DC is finding more successful women in startups is that notorious “Washington networking,” which facilitates connections and collaborations between women with similar entrepreneurial success. Hosan Lee, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer for Gutbliss, agrees that networking is key, saying “I make an effort to keep the global ecosystem fluid by integrating my network of female executives in other cities into what I’m working on here, as well as connecting people outwards.”
The D.C. Tech community not only exceeds at networking, but ensuring everybody has a voice and equal support. Stephanie Hay, VP of Business Development for the highly praised iPhone App “Fast Customer” cited the community for its incredible support: “I’ve been in DC since 2003, and when I started my own consulting company 2 years ago, I was blown away by the supportive tech and business community here. I was far more successful than I had expected to be my first year on my own, and I believe that couldn’t have happened without the right community. I’d like to think DC offers more for women entrepreneurs…my peers in groups like the DC Lean Startup Circle and DC Tech Meetups…ensures all these smart women around us are being represented and heard.”
Even though the representation of women in startups and technology is questioned, it doesn’t seem to be a topic of concern among women in the District. In fact, the high concentration of women in leadership roles within startups here is a major point of pride for the DC Tech community. As DC’s innovation continues to grow, it is pleasing to see that the nation’s Capital representing equally for both genders.
I extend my gratitude to the women that helped me write this article, thank you for lending me your invaluable thoughts and insights.
- Carmel Greer – Owner and Architect of District Design
- Mili Mittal – Co-founder and CEO of Morsl
- Rebecca Thorman – Director of PR, Media and Communications for Alice.com
- Hosan Lee – Co-founder and COO of Gutbliss
- Lisa Morales-Hellebo – Founder and CEO of Shopsy
- Marci Harris – CEO of Popvox
- Steph Hay – Co-founder of Fast Customer
Editor’s note: Carl is a staff writer at InTheCapital. ITC is a Streetwise Media property that is on the verge of launching.