Let’s face it: The tech scene is dominated by men.Adeo Ressi, CEO of the Founder Institute, hopes to change that over the next few years.
He’s well-positioned to do so as an insider’s insider in the tech industry.
After doing a few startups, he upended the clubby venture-capital world with TheFunded.com, a kind of Yelp for entrepreneurs to review investors.
Then he started the Founder Institute, which is aiming to export the Silicon Valley startup model around the world. As such, he’s actually in a perch where he can help launch the careers of women entrepreneurs.
“There is a fundamental problem that (women) are so vastly underrepresented in leadership at technology companies,” Ressi says.
Estimates are rough, but at the high end, no more than 7 per cent of tech company founders are women—and depending on how you count, it may be as low as 2 per cent.
“In my view, that’s a travesty,” Ressi says.
But here’s the challenge: how to increase the number of women in tech without introducing a double standard.
What he’s done at the Founder Institute is make sure, via marketing and outreach, that there are a large number of female applicants, which in turn increases the number of up-and-coming female entrepreneurs. The Founder Institute also launched a Female Founder Fellowship program in 2011 to attract more women to apply.
So far, it’s working.
Since implementing the FFF program, the accelerator has increased the percentage of female-founded companies it backs from 16% to 36%.
Ressi hopes the Founder Institute can be a catalyst for change among other accelerators and incubators, but says that it won’t happen overnight.
“I want to see a point in the not too distant future where 50% of all the new startups are founded by women or have women in the founding team,” Ressi says. “I don’t believe that there will be equal opportunity right away because the number of people who are funding those businesses will still be majority male.”
Ressi also hopes to see the number of female investors increase and become equal to the number of male investors within the next few years, because funding discrimination is a huge issue that female entrepreneurs face.
That, Ressi believes, will be the tipping point.
But changing the venture-capital world—a cause Ressi has championed—is a chicken-and-egg problem. Venture-capital firms hire very slowly, and partners frequently recruit successful entrepreneurs whom they’ve previously backed, who are typically men like themselves—a dynamic which accentuates and perpetuates the gender imbalance.
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