The older I get, the fewer female friends I have that are aspiring in professional careers. They've decided to stay home with kids, or to scale back their workload, or take a less demanding job. And even fewer are starting or scaling businesses, let alone raising money to fund them.
The fact is that it's hard to find other women who understand what it's like to start a company (or in my case, build up a news site) and can be both vulnerable enough to admit the challenges and helpful enough to advise you through them.
That's why I wasn't too surprised when last week's kickoff of SOAR—the female-entrepreneur mentoring and networking group sponsored by American Underground and Google for Entrepreneurs—turned from panel discussion with investors to emotional storytelling by entrepreneurs.
Women need an outlet to share their frustrations, hardships and perceptions about starting and funding a company in a still male-dominated startup world. And now with several female-oriented groups starting up—besides SOAR, there's E51 which holds its first CoffeeConnection this Thursday and the Triangle Multicultural Women's Entrepreneurship Meetup—perhaps this is the first time the Triangle has provided a place for aspiring female founders to share those stories.
But there's only so far we can go as a startup community simply sharing our problems.
The facts speak for themselves. IDEA Fund Partners and Bull City Venture Partners are two of the most active investors in town and BCVP has never backed a company with a female CEO (though 60 percent of its companies have one on the management team) and at least 95 percent of deal flow comes from male-led companies. IDEA Fund's results are slightly better—two of 14 portfolio companies have female founders—but less than 2 percent of all deal flow are female-led startups.
The tide won't change until the women in the room can move past the storytelling and take advantage of the insights, experiences and knowledge of investors giving up their time to help move the needle. In the hour-long presentation, the panel received few questions about how to build more attractive businesses to fund, and more comments and stories about how hard it is to get funding.
Starting a company is an emotional ride for any person, and women are typically wired with more emotion than our male counterparts. Whether or not there's bias in decision-making, women need to take advantage of every opportunity they can get to interface with investors and advisors.
And they need to prove that any bias is unfounded.
So when are the next opportunities to make that happen?
*The newly named E51 (so-named because 51 percent of the population are women) is using this Thursday's event at noon at HQ Raleigh to talk about its peer mentoring opportunities.
*This Friday, May 9th is the deadline to be one of a handful or fewer female entrepreneurs to receive one-on-one mentoring over the next year through the SOAR Network. Apply here.
*And SOAR's next Quarterly Roundtable will happen this fall. Headlining is Melissa & Doug co-founder and Duke graduate, Melissa Bernstein.
*Also upcoming, is the first Triangle Startup Weekend Women's Edition, date and location TBD. Check the Triangle Startup Weekend site for updates.