Soar is American Underground's answer to a call from partner Google for Entrepreneurs to brainstorm ways to help increase the number of females in startups and make entrepreneurship a more viable option for ambitious women in business. Google calls its initiative 40Forward—40 startup communities around the world working on solutions to the gender gap in startups.
It's also a response to much publicized and alarming statistics about female-led startups. Though they receive just 5 percent of all venture funding in the United States, they generate an average 12 percent more revenue and earn investors a 35 percent higher return on investment.
A group of women recently gathered at Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network offices in Durham and made it clear they often feel left out and in the minority among early stage companies locally.
Simply, female entrepreneurs are worth the time and attention.
At least that's the mission of the local organizing team, which includes Albright Digital general manager Vickie Gibbs, Groundwork Labs's John Austin, Adam Klein of American Underground, Kimberly Jenkins, formerly of Microsoft, and Lauren Whitehurst of the entrepreneur consultancy Side*.
Klein gathered the group together to brainstorm ways to provide support for women starting companies; he hoped the Triangle could become one of Google's 40Forward too. Gibbs got involved because she'd never had an opportunity to share her 15+ years of experience building digital startups with other aspiring female founders.
"We have a group that wants to invest back in the community and see more women be successful," says Gibbs. "The needs of women might be different than a male-dominated organization might be in tune with. We can provide structure and flexibility and encouragement for women to go out and do things."
Soar will begin as a volunteer mentor network, funded with a $15,000 Google for Entrepreneurs grant (for marketing and other resources). At least 20 experienced entrepreneurial women have agreed to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs one-on-one and in group settings, and they'll hold quarterly educational workshops for women involved in the network. The first is May 1st and the topic is raising capital.
Eventually, Soar will match female-led startups with new funding sources. In 2015, its goal is to help at least one Soar mentee secure investment.
But for now, Soar is looking for women in need of mentorship and support. If that's you, sign up to attend the May 1 event here.