Entrepreneur: 6 Disadvantages Confronting Female Entrepreneurs Seeking Venture Capital

By: Devishobha Chandramouli

The role of women in the workplace has assumed enormous proportions. The Economist named the economic empowerment of women as one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years. Women contribute more than $3 trillion to the economy and own over 36 percent of all businesses. Companies with women founders have performed 63 percent better than all-man teams and have also received higher valuations.

Despite these remarkable statistics, startups with women founders received only 2 percent of the entire venture capital funding last year. While no startup has it easy with funding, women seem to have it particularly hard. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Women are asked different questions.

The unconscious bias between men and women has been hard to quantify until the Harvard Business Review team decided to analyze conversations of VC decision-making conversations behind closed doors. After analyzing 125 applications and nearly 36 hours of decision-making time, the team concluded that potential male founders were questioned along the lines of the “potential of growth” and “future possibilities” of the venture they were pitching.

Conversely, questions to the female founders centered around being cautious with money and the associated risks. This distinction in use of language led to a different perception of personas, thereby leading to a much lower success rate for women founders.

2. VC networks are men’s clubs.

Much of the ecosystem in the VC world is built around networks — the number of contacts you can readily reach out to for support. Women’s networks suffer because women tend to be more conscious of work-life balance and bear a greater share of child-care responsibility. (No wonder the “Can women have it all?” debate is still hot.)

Also, male founders have another natural advantage. The VC community is predominantly male. Communities tend to look out for their own.

3. The default profile of a “successful entrepreneur” is male.

According to Candida Brush, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, one of the reasons women don’t receive funding is that the generic profile of the successful entrepreneur is almost always male. When asked to picture the image of a successful male, Brush’s students require 6-10 tries to get to a successful female entrepreneur. It is always a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg before an Arianna Huffington or Sara Blakely, which may be the cause for an unconscious bias against women entrepreneurs approaching venture capitalists. Brush urges the need for this default image to be consciously changed.

Another study led by Harvard professor Alison Wood Brooksestablished that entrepreneurial pitches delivered by men were viewed more favorably than those by women, even when the content of the pitch was exactly the same.

4. Women tend to be more cautious, and it backfires.

Amanda Brown, former executive director of the National Women’s Business Council, states that the issues of funding for women-owned companies mirror the chicken-and-egg problem. According to Brown, women tend to bootstrap longer, and that dents their credit scores.

Since procurement of loans on a bad credit score is hard, bootstrapping begins to stifle the growth of business because infusion of funds into the company is at a much slower rate. This creates an image of the woman entrepreneur being complacent or unsuccessful, in comparison to their male counterparts.

5. Women must brave a big power imbalance.

The recent deluge of the #MeToo campaigns has helped articulate the problem that women are much more likely to face than men. Being a venture capitalist places men (already a majority in the VC circles) in a position of power that could help them get away with heaping indignities on women, without as much as a scratch to their reputations or their businesses, placing women in incredibly vulnerable positions.

6. Women lack a tribe.

There aren’t enough VC firms with women to help women founders feel naturally understood. Men funding women founders are more open to funding companies by women that provide “girly services” — like women’s clothes or baby stuff after “checking with their wives.” No man would ever hear that. The battle gets that much harder when pitching for tech ideas.

The more women we bring to the decision-making side of the table, the more the skew of the male VC ecosystem is offset. VC firms with more women determined to see women entrepreneurs succeed are the need of the hour.


The Encore – IBM: Getting started with IBM Design Thinking

Align. Innovate. Create.

Maybe you think you have a great idea for a new product. Or, maybe you already created a product and your competitors just released an update that scares. Either way, you need a proven process for innovating and delivering fast. You need IBM® Design Thinking.

IBM Design Thinking combines traditional techniques with new core practices

IBM Design Thinking starts by bringing together a series of traditional design techniques, such as personas, empathy maps, as-is scenarios, design ideation, to-be scenarios, wireframe sketches, hypothesis-driven design, and minimum viable product (MVP) definition. To these traditional design approaches, IBM Design Thinking adds three core practices: hills, playbacks, and sponsor users.


IBM Design Thinking created the notion of hills to provide a new business language for alignment around user-centric market outcomes, not feature requests. This new business language is rooted in user needs and desires. Each hill is expressed as an aspirational end state for users that is motivated by market understanding. Hills define the mission and scope of a release and serve to focus the design and development work on desired, measurable outcomes. For each project, define no more than three major release hill objectives plus a technical foundation objective.


As your effort moves forward, you’ll want to obtain lots of feedback. You need playbacks.

Playbacks align your team, stakeholders, and users around the user value that you plan to deliver, rather than project line items. All design and development work is iterative. To scale in an iterative world, IBM Design Thinking formalizes these sessions into iconic playback milestones that align everyone around a set of high-value scenarios that show the value of your offering.

Early playbacks align the team and ensure that it understands how to achieve a hill’s specific user objectives. In later playbacks, the development team demonstrates its progress on delivering high-value, end-to-end scenarios.

Sponsor users

Sponsor users, a special component of IBM Design Thinking, are people who are selected from your real or intended user group. By working with sponsor users, you can better design experiences for real target users, rather than imagined needs. If at all possible, engage sponsor uses when you create your personas, and continue to include them throughout the entire design and development process.

As you engage sponsor users on a regular basis throughout the release cycle, your relationship deepens, and their feedback provides direct insight into the specialized needs of their business domains. Collaboration between sponsor users and your team ensures that your product is valuable, effortless, and enjoyable.

Important components of IBM Design Thinking

  • Personas: Start by getting to know the person or people that you intend to help with your product. Collect information and answer a wide array of questions about them. Who are they? What are their personal demographics? What are their normal tasks? What motivates them? What problems do they face? What frustrates them?You can gather this information from many sources, including surveys, forums, direct observation, and interviews. Then, take all of the information and organize it to describe one or more specific individuals, or personas, who represent your target audience. As you work toward your solution, return to the personas to ensure that what you are building is going to excite them and make them say “Wow.”
  • Empathy maps: After you define one or more personas, get to know them at a deeper level. Capture what they think, what they feel, what they say, and what they do. By doing so, you’ll begin to develop empathy for this person. You’ll use an empathy map to identify their major pain points.
  • As-is scenarios maps: Next, take an in-depth look at your personas’ primary task scenarios. In an as-is scenario map, document the steps that they take, and as you do, document what they think, what they feel, and what they do along the way.During this phase, be sure to capture all of the issues and problems that your personas face in their current environment. Capturing issues can be difficult because you might need to candidly discuss the flaws in your current offering. Don’t be afraid to be honest. The more honest you are, the more likely you are to identify the most critical pain points. Ultimately, you develop greater empathy for your personas and gain a deeper understanding of the problems that they face as they try to achieve their goals.
  • Design ideation and prioritization: After you create a persona, an empathy map, and an as-is scenario map, you’ll understand your target audience and the problems that it faces. You’ll also probably have a few ideas about how to solve their problems and excite them. During design ideation, brainstorm and generate as many ideas as possible. Initially, don’t worry about what is feasible. Generate as many ideas as possible, regardless of whether you know how to implement them. Then, organize those ideas into clusters and decide which clusters have the greatest promise.
  • To-be scenario maps: At this point, your goal is to create a scenario map. This scenario map, called a to-be scenario map, describes the future state that the adoption of your best ideas leads to. Capture what personas think, do, and feel during this future set of activities. Be sure to capture the “wow” aspect in this new scenario flow. The key question is “Will the person feel compelled to purchase a product that achieves this outcome? Why? Why not?”
  • Wireframe sketches: To get a better sense of the to-be outcome, it is sometimes useful to create a set of low-fidelity wireframe sketches with various alternatives. These wireframe sketches are not intended to represent a final design. That comes later. At this point, try to sketch potential experiences and their flows. Create a wide array of alternatives, knowing that you might throw away most of them. You can show those alternative sketches to various stakeholders and to actual members of your target audience to get feedback.
  • Hypothesis-driven design: A key aspect of IBM Design Thinking is to create a set of testable and measurable hypotheses about what you design and deliver. The hypotheses are generally in this form: “If we provide persona A, with the ability to achieve outcome B, we’ll then be able to measure the impact via metrics X, Y, and Z.” These testable hypotheses help you determine whether you created the compelling product that you hoped to create.
  • Minimum viable product (MVP) definition: After you have a set of hypotheses, you can define an MVP. An MVP is the smallest thing that can be built and delivered quickly to test one of your hypotheses and help you learn and evaluate your effort. In IBM Design Thinking, MVPs are closely aligned with a set of hills. Teams often define their MVP statements and their hills in parallel.

The benefits of IBM Design Thinking

IBM Design Thinking takes the best industry recognized design methods, adds three core practices—hills, sponsor users, and playbacks—and applies knowledge from real development with real users at IBM’s worldwide IBM Cloud Garage locations.

By using IBM Design Thinking, you can generate ideas faster; design, evaluate, and test them faster; and develop code faster. Most importantly, you can deliver value to your customers faster.

The Globe and Mail: Women Entrepreneurs Are Innovating in Their Businesses; It’s Time to Help Them Succeed

Today, when we look at who starts and owns businesses, the world looks much different than it did 50 years ago.

Female-led enterprises now represent half of all new businesses, while just less than half of all small and medium-sized businesses are either entirely or partly owned by women. As well, female-led businesses, while tending to be smaller than male-led businesses, create more jobs and have higher survival rates when we compare them by their growth metrics.

But female-led businesses, even today, remain constrained by a number of key factors. Across the country, women express frustration with a lack of access to capital, ageism and sexism and harassment from investors and clients. As well, they deal with the reality that mainstream networks, incubators and accelerators often don’t cater to female entrepreneurs and the industries in which they operate.

To help investigate these issues and find solutions, BMO, Carleton University and the Beacon Agency, with support from the Government of Canada, have come together to help solve this problem – to investigate what’s happening with female entrepreneurs and the environment in which they seek to operate. What we found was a significant impediment to the success of these businesses – a lack of recognition of the innovative capabilities of these women.

Throughout our travels interviewing them, we were struck by the eagerness they showed in telling us their stories of resilience and pride in their contributions through their businesses. But we also experienced their frustration about the barriers they continue to face. They told us about the negative effects of these impediments, despite the fact that these exceptional business talents have been innovating – everywhere, every day, across the country.

A significant part of the issue relates to the fact that most businesses started by women are concentrated in the service sector; meanwhile, women are typically underrepresented in the science and technology sector.

This reality runs up against a marketplace where key participants still tend to define innovation in terms of technology and goods. The result is a situation where innovations that flow from other parts of the marketplace – innovations often created by women running service companies – are not seen in a similar, positive light.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has developed what we consider to be a more useful definition of innovation: “implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organization or external relations.” Using this definition, we start to see these women in a new light – they are innovating in all sectors and in every aspect of their business. While we need to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in science and technology, it is important to recognize their contributions to Canada’s innovation in all sectors and aspects of their businesses.

These findings represent an opportunity, particularly for governments and financial institutions. They must include and support women by developing inclusive innovation policies and programs that enable all innovation, no matter what sector, to be supported and recognized. To assist in this, women must be involved from design to implementation to ensure their perspectives and experiences shape the policy and programs to be inclusive to all.

WPO Guest Blog: Do Women’s Networking Events Move the Needle on Equality?

By: Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor Blog

Recently, I was flying home from the Conference for Women, where I had been invited to speak. I   was carefully holding a copy of the conference program on my lap — my mom likes to save them, and I wanted to be a good son and bring her back an unwrinkled copy. The guy sitting next to me on the airplane noticed it and asked me about the conference. I told him it’s a series of nonprofits across the country that run conferences for women from all industries to talk about leadership, fairness, and success. He then surprised me by saying, “I’m all for equality, but I’m not sure what good a conference will do.” Done with the conversation, he put on his headphones, content in his cynicism as I stewed, trying to come up with the best, albeit incredibly delayed, response.

By the time I landed, I realized the best response to such a cynical attitude would be data. It won’t change anyone’s mindset to just claim that connecting women is “important” and will “have an impact at work and in society.” We need to show that it actually does. That’s why Michelle Gielan, best-selling author of Broadcasting Happiness, and I partnered with the Conference for Women to see if we could test the long-term effects of uniting women. Spoiler alert: The results astounded even us.

In our initial study of 2,600 working women across functions and industries attending Conferences for Women in several U.S. states, we examined several outcomes that occurred in the year after the women attended the conference. Since women who attend a conference might be different demographically and psychographically from women who elect not to, we used a control group that was made up of women who signed up for a conference but had not yet attended.

As part of the study, we were looking for two types of positive outcomes in women attending a conference: financial outcomes (pay raises and promotions) and intellectual outcomes (increased optimism, lower stress levels, and a feeling of connection). Since we were looking at financial outcomes, we made sure the time period we studied was the same for the research group and the control group, to account for any changes in the larger economic landscape.

For the women who’d signed up for the conference but had yet to attend, 18% received a promotion during the time period we studied, compared with 42% of women who had already attended the conference. In other words, in the year after connecting with peers at the Conference for Women, the likelihood of receiving a promotion doubled. (I wish I could find that guy on the plane to share this stat with him.)

In addition, 5% of the women in the control group received a pay increase of more than 10%, compared with the 15% of women who had attended the conference. That means that in one year, attendees had triple the likelihood of a 10%+ pay increase. (Remember, this isn’t selection bias — women in the control group were also signed up to attend a future conference.)

We also polled the women who’d attended the conference about how it affected their overall outlook. 78% percent of them reported feeling “more optimistic about the future” after attending. While we did not compare this with the control group’s outlook, this still seemed like a significant finding to us in part because of what we know about how a positive mindset can affect other aspects of life. In my HBR article “Positive Intelligence,” I describe how optimism can create a “happiness advantage,” where nearly every business and educational outcome improves as a result.

Perhaps most tellingly, 71% of the attendees said that they “feel more connected to others” after attending. This is important. In my book Big Potential, I outline why the greatest predictor of success and happiness is social connection. Research has shown that social connection can be as predictive of how long you will live as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking. There is power in connection. I start Big Potential with the story of a study of synchronous lightning bugs from Indonesia, in which researchers at MIT found that if lightning bugs light up alone, their success rate for reproduction is 3%. If they light up simultaneously with thousands of other lightning bugs, their success rate rises to 86%. By lighting together, they could space themselves out to maximize resources, and the increase in their collective brightness would help them be seen for up to five miles! I wrote Big Potential because I have found that if people feel like they are trying to get out of depression alone, or fighting inequality alone, or striving for success alone, they burn out and the world feels like a huge burden. But there is a powerful, viable alternative to individually pursuing success and happiness: doing it together.

I’m not sure every conference would have such a long-term positive impact. I have been to quite a few where either the conference is unengaging or the attendees are disengaged and on their phones. I think it’s safe to say there is an inverse relationship between the benefits you’ll get from a conference and the time you spend on your laptop or phone.

But the key to a beneficial conference, based on my experience speaking at more than 900 conferences over the past 12 years, are (1) a sense of social connection felt by the attendees, (2) engaging sessions, (3) leaders who role model and exemplify the qualities that the conference is attempting to instill, (4) a memorable moment, and (5) a realistic assessment of the present with an optimistic look to the future. Based on the responses of the women in this sample group, we see elevated optimism and social connection, as well as superstar role models (for example, Michelle Obama and Brené Brown also spoke at the event I went to). Moreover, many of the sessions offered practical applications for moving forward at work, such as how to ask for a raise, or stories from other women to let you know that your experiences at work are not unusual or isolated.

Laurie Dalton White, founder of the Conferences for Women, adds, “Something special happens when you see that you are not alone. Making connections and building relationships with other attendees and speakers helps women form an understanding of their worth, and then they learn strategies to ask for promotions, seek fair pay, and even become mentors to others. We invite women like Michelle Obama and Sheryl Sandberg to speak at our conferences not just because of their own personal success stories, but because they are role models who inspire women in both big and small ways.”

There is power in connecting, and it’s not just about gender. Men and women alike can benefit from the power of connection. If you are a manager, encourage your employees to go to events where they can connect with others to remind them that they are not pursuing success and happiness alone. If you are a CEO, invest in conferences that help build up all members of your organization, regardless of where they sit in the organizational hierarchy.

We have so much more to learn about the value of connection in a hyper-competitive world. To the guy sitting on my plane: This research shows that cynicism regarding women’s conferences and initiatives is unfounded, unconstructive, and uninformed. To the rest of us seeking a positive path forward at work and in society, regardless of gender: We must pursue happiness and success together. Like the lightning bugs, rather than trying to light up the darkness alone and in isolation, there is power when we add our light to something bigger. In doing so, we shine brighter.




The Encore – UPS: CEOs Should Think Like Founders, Not Just Managers

By: John Geraci | Harvard Business Review and David Kidder | Harvard Business Review


Here are five actions leaders can take to move from a manager to re-founder mindset.

Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook. Today’s most successful companies are for the most part young firms led by founders and their teams.

The signal is undeniable: The market now rewards the long-term vision and continual investment in new growth represented by these younger enterprises.

Large companies have been responding to these developments for some time, mainly by applying the methods of startups such as lean experimentation, design thinking and agile development. While these tactics are useful, when used alone they serve merely as Band-Aids.

The change that enterprises need to undergo to regain their growth trajectories is more profound, and it must start at the very top. To generate new growth, CEOs must stop thinking of themselves as chief managers and start thinking of themselves as re-founders.

Re-founders are leaders who, despite not having started the company, think with the mindset of a founder. They do not focus their energies on incremental growth through endless optimization, but instead look to leverage their company’s assets to build new offerings, move into new markets and create next-generation solutions.

We coach CEOs of large enterprises who are in the process of re-founding their companies and have seen firsthand what works best for them.

Here are five actions leaders can take to move from a manager to re-founder mindset:

Shift your mindset

Strategists in mature businesses think in terms of total addressable markets, which allows them to size a potential business and plan accordingly. Re-founders think in terms of total addressable problems. They ask: How many people have a problem that this solution could address? This mindset uncovers potential opportunities before there’s a market for them.

Don’t seek consensus

When it comes to decision-making, big-to-bigger enterprises look to gain consensus as a way of minimizing the risk of failure. In contrast, re-founders recognize that new opportunities lie outside of the realm of consensus. These are leaders who acknowledge differences of opinion and move forward anyway, recognizing they are making a bet on a conviction and may ultimately be wrong.

Embrace productive failure

Failure isn’t something to be aimed for or celebrated, but it is a tool for getting to the truth. Re-founders use productive failure to guide them to the right solutions, extracting lessons from a failed process and using them to correct course.

Use new metrics

New initiatives are not businesses per se. They’re hypotheses about future businesses. As such, it is deadly to hold them to standard growth metrics. They require their own set of metrics that will enable them to grow and flourish.

Develop a portfolio strategy

In contrast to the typical big-company “Hail Mary” approach to new growth, in which all hopes are pinned to a single initiative, re-founders apply a portfolio strategy that involves thinking like a venture capitalist more than a builder, by articulating a solid growth thesis.

WPO Guest Blog: Designing Your Life

By: Janet Odgis

Design is essential to happiness. Since earliest memories, I’ve been fascinated by color juxtapositions, textures and form. Beautiful design fills me with positive energy.

The question is: How do you create and express beauty in something as daunting as designing your life plan?

Where Do You Start? 

In designing a plan or strategy, seldom do you begin at the very beginning; that part is often decided upon later. You start with a desire, and based on that desire, you create an idea (or a series of ideas). A big part of this process is letting your mind wander and get lost; this journey, and the mistakes you make on it, will lead to resolution.

Before you express your ideas out loud, or write them down, you see them in your mind. The benefit of a mental journey is that you can successfully identify a direction to begin with. But it’s often difficult to let go and trust that getting lost is the very best way to allow such discoveries to happen. And never fear: when you’re in the weeds, you will have the opportunity to experience new things that will help to shape your ideas. While many people find it difficult to visualize concepts—at least at first—it’s very possible to express thoughts and feelings so that others can relate, understand and possibly collaborate in your efforts.


The First Step: Visualize It

See it to believe it. Visualization is a particularly good strategy when you’re trying to articulate your life path. It’s not daydreaming; it’s having the courage to imagine what might be possible. The creation of a “mind map” that details your steps and goals is a great tool; but don’t be afraid if it takes quite some time (and many iterations) to find clarity.And best of all, you’re using words, not chiseling in stone: once you’ve voiced the “first draft” of your plans, you can invite feedback from others to iterate and improve on it.


The Second Step: Find the Words

Thoughts must be expressed in words in order for others to consider their potential impact. Before you reach that point, you must allow your kernels of thought to grow to their full potential. Indeed, that is a step that’s sometimes skipped: you should sit down (or stand, or take a long walk—whatever best frees your thinking) and work through your ideas and plans in your mind until they assume a more definitive state. That way, you’ll have something to talk about when the time comes.

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair.” That quote comes from Dr. Hyder Zahed’s essay “The Power of Spoken Words.” He’s right: words can rally people to your cause, bring ideas to life, and ultimately change the world. Every great thing in history started with someone saying, “How about…”


The Third Step: Brainstorm It

Run different scenarios, but make sure to do so without imposing self-judgment. Try all sorts of ideas on for size; and once you begin to settle on some good ones, rehearse how you’re going to share with others. Don’t be afraid of revising your ideas in radical ways; it may take some additional time, but the improvements could be worth it.

When communicating with others, keep your words simple and your points direct; make sure what you’re sharing is clear. If you’ve been unambiguous, your audience can give you feedback that you might use.


The Fourth Step: Design It

“Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction.”

That’s the dictionary definition of “design.” Although many people might think that “design” is limited to the creation of specific objects, it very much applies to the strategies for your life and work. Words are the bricks and mortar of those strategies, and you can build a fine “structure,” provided you’ve thought through your ideas, figured out how to express them in a clear way, and made yourself receptive to any feedback you may receive from those around you.


The Fifth Step: Revisit It

The ideal “mind map” is the result of an iterative process. Things change over time, and your design must respond to the complexities of our world and its culture.

When we express our thoughts and feelings, we have the opportunity to objectify them. Once put into words, and externalized, these ideas no longer dominate our emotions; any inner tension is released, and we have the pieces before us to redesign our lives. As the curators of our own lives, we can surround ourselves with beauty and elegance if we go on a journey to design our life. What would you like to see happen for you? Why not begin imagining it today?

Walmart: Walmart’s American Family Today Report

We’re excited to share with you The American Family Today Report. Walmart partnered with Quid, a San Francisco based artificial intelligence company, to bring together this in-depth report. By analyzing customer transaction data from its 140 million weekly shoppers around the country, Walmart identified the following trends and the generational, geographic, and socioeconomic forces at work behind them. Quid, complemented this by leveraging its artificial intelligence and natural language processing technologies to analyze hundreds of thousands of unstructured data sources.

Looking to 2018, the data has surfaced four new trends that will shape life for American families in the next year and beyond. Below is an infographic highlighting the trends:

Compared to previous generations, Millennials are far more likely to live with their parents or be indulgent pet parents.

New technologies are giving families more flexibility and convenience at work and at play.

Personal and collective well-being has become a priority and there is an increased expectation of transparency into products.

Foods that offer the convenience and diverse flavors that families want.

Click here to view the full report.

The Women Presidents’ Organization would like to thank Walmart for providing this week’s sponsor blog content.