Diversity & Inclusion
DEI / Philly Tech Week / Venture capital / Women in tech

Women tech founders: Collaboration can help shrink the venture capital gap

Connections and mutual support have been crucial to the panelists at Tuesday's Women in Tech Soiree, part of Philly Tech Week.

Women in Tech Soiree 2019's panelists. (Photo by Anupma Sahay)
A renaissance is occurring on a global scale when it comes to diversity and inequity issues, according to Brigitte Daniel, founder of Mogulette and executive VP of Wilco.

And in Philadelphia, specifically, “we are at a tipping point,” said organizer Daniel.

At the fifth annual Women in Tech Soiree, progress in inclusive innovation took center stage. The Philly Tech Week event highlights women who are forging a path for others.

The event featured keynote speaker Candice Matthews Brackeen, executive director of Cincinnati-based accelerator Hillman and an advocate for creating a space for underserved or underrepresented founders.

Brackeen said she also saw this time as an inflection point.

“[Kathryn Finney] absolutely shined a light down on the fact that women and people of color weren’t getting the same amount of money that other people were getting,” said Brackeen, referencing ProjectDiane, an annual study on untapped opportunity in minority communities. “When you see 0.2% of venture dollars going to black women … why aren’t we getting the dollars?” (In Philly, less than a fifth of all VC dollars go to women-founded companies.)

All of the startups Hillman works with are funded.

“We’re capitalists at heart,” said Brackeen. “We are in this to make money, [but] we are also in it to help our community. … We found a market failure: The market is failing women and minorities who are growing tech companies.”

Influencing policy in Cincinnati was a key goal of Hillman’s. The Minority Entrepreneurship Connectivity Assessment was commissioned to examine where venture dollars were going in the state. The study found lack of inclusivity despite diversity and shared hard numbers to highlight that fact.

“Now, 10% of all venture dollars that are given out by the state have to go to a grassroots effort focused on women and minorities,” said Brackeen.

Women in Tech Soiree organizer Brigitte Daniel. (Photo by Anupma Sahay)

The “Rock Star Women in Tech” panel followed, moderated by Stimulus CEO Tiffanie Stanard. Its overarching message: Find a seat at the table and use it.

“I spent so much time thinking ‘I’m not corporate, I don’t fit in here’ and failed to realize that all the stuff that I bring to the table is why I’m awesome in corporate life and why I’m awesome at my job,” said Michelle Histand, director of innovation at Independence Blue Cross.

Mentorship and collaboration was another discussion trend. Muhga Eltigani, CEO of NaturAll Club, said she just raised $5 million and started out by cold emailing on LinkedIn. She saw women being the most helpful to her in the beginning.

As a woman, said InstaMed VP of Strategy Deirdre Ruttle, “I’m a really good collaborator. There are absolute benefits that can happen from collaboration and learning people’s playbooks, men and women, and then being able to successfully go from idea to execution to revenue.”

(Photo by Anupma Sahay)

To Ann Givens, global managing director at JP Morgan Chase, bringing women to the table with her is paramount. Celebrating successes is also important.

To the panelists, developing and nurturing the pipeline is crucial to increasing the number of women in tech in Philly. Girls must be encouraged young to get involved with math, science and entrepreneurship; the interest divide can be seen beginning in middle school, according to Brianna Wronko, CEO of Group K Diagnostics.

Sometimes, and true to the Soiree’s mission, it is all about connections. To Histand, it is the Philadelphia way: “I live in South Philly where everyone’s got a guy,” she said.

“There’s this organic, viral magic that can happen,” said Ruttle.

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