A survey of the fastest-growing startup companies in Northern Nevada found that roughly half are run by women founders. This is far above the national average, according to the Kauffman Foundation Startup Activity Index that states that only 36.8 percent of new entrepreneurs are female. These local companies are very diverse, ranging from management software, to custom apparel, to biochemicals and consumer products. The Summit Venture Mentoring Service, a program managed by EDAWN’s Entrepreneurial Team, takes in early-stage startups and organizes a team of mentors around them to guide them towards success. Of the 23 startups supported by the program in the past year, 12 of them were solo female founders or had a female co-founder.
Why the increase in female entrepreneurship? Jen Gurecki, the founder and CEO of Coalition Snow and winner of last year’s pitch competition at the annual Governor’s Business Conference, says, “This is a unique time in history for women in general to achieve higher levels of success. But Reno’s culture of collaboration really lends itself to supporting new entrepreneurs and that naturally lends itself to supporting women as well.”
Gurecki’s company makes skis and snowboards designed specifically for women, steering away from the “shrink it and pink it” strategy some product companies have used in the past in attempts to cater to women customers. This upcoming snow season, REI will be carrying Coalition Snow’s skis and snowboards.
The University of Nevada, Reno has been playing a role as well. The Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship, located within the university’s business school, recently started the Women’s Initiative. The initiative is designed to facilitate connections between new entrepreneurs and women throughout the business community. They held an event this past spring that gathered women leaders and entrepreneurs in the area. Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve attended and further supported this initiative by proclaiming May 26 as the day we recognize women in business. The Ozmen Center Women’s initiative has released a video series and will hold more events going forward.
We may see more female founders moving to the area. “Coming from the Bay Area, I was blown away by the number of female founders in Reno and their eagerness to help other female founders succeed,” says Jean Harrison of EasyKeeper, a software company that allows livestock herd producers to manage records electronically. “We often get together for coffee to celebrate wins and provide the critical feedback we all need now and then.”
EasyKeeper was one of the companies in 2013’s GirlMade Accelerator program, which put female founders through a short education program and concluded with a public presentation demo day. Harrison was also accepted into The Mill accelerator program in Las Vegas, which she completed last month.
There are still significant hurdles for women entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to raising capital. According to the National Women’s Business Council, female founders typically start with 50 percent less capital. CrunchBase also reported that although funding for startups with a female founder doubled over the past 5 years, the number is still very low. Only 18 percent of companies funded in 2014 had a female founder involved.
A bigger issue may be that only 7 percent of partners at the top venture capital firms are women. Unfortunately, investors may be missing a huge opportunity. First Round Capital is a seed-stage investment fund that has invested in Uber, Square, Birchbox, and Blue Apron. On their 10th anniversary, First Round dove into their historic data and found 10 surprising discoveries. The most notable was that companies with a female founder outperformed teams with all-male founders by 63 percent.
Although the rate of new female entrepreneurs is increasing nationally, there is still some work to be done to bring that number past 36.8 percent. Northern Nevada, however, is a breakout star — and not only for new entrepreneurs, but established businesses as well. Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) is a global peer-to-peer network for business owners that have reached a certain revenue mark. Female membership in the local EO Reno Tahoe chapter is nearly double the global average. One EO member, Karen Purcell, owner of PK Electric, is encouraging younger women to join STEM fields with her book, “Unlocking Your Brilliance.” With more women entering these fields, they are likely to lead of charge in creating new and innovative companies.
Bryan McArdle is manager of entrepreneurial development at EDAWN and operations manager for the Summit VMS Mentor Program. He is actively involved in organizing multiple entrepreneurial events like Startup Weekend and the Reno Mini Maker Faire.