Women-Led Tech Companies And The Ecosystem Supporting Them

Written by Dana Sanchez

You’re a woman and you just sold your company for $4.5 billion. What do you do next?

Kay Koplovitz is the former CEO and founder of USA Networks. Today, that includes NBC, E!, Bravo, Oxygen and the Sci-Fi Channel, among others. She ran the company for 21 years before stepping down in 1998, selling it for $4.5 billion. The multi-billion-dollar cable TV networks are now owned by NBC and Comcast.

The first woman in U.S. history to be president of a TV network, Koplovitz is a trailblazer. She faced many situations where women were not accepted, Fortune reported. For example, she did business with Augusta National Golf Club, where women were barred from entering the second-floor club.

Koplovitz said she didn’t let gender hold her back. “You just find your way around things. I was never thinking that it was going to be a barrier for me. I was going to find a way around it because I knew if I was to be successful I would have to,” she said.

Frustrated with continually seeing women trying to run companies without capital, Koplovitz founded Springboard Enterprises in 1999. The Washington, D.C. nonprofit accelerator helps women-led businesses find equity financing.

Despite Koplovitz’s success in business, the reaction wasn’t exactly positive when she announced she was starting company to help women scale their businesses, she said in a February interview with InnovationAus.

“People told us, ‘You’re crazy, women don’t do that. They don’t build scalable businesses’. But we said we’re going to try,” Koplovitz said.

Fast forward 18 years, and 642 women-led companies — including around 40 from outside the U.S. — have taken part in the Springboard accelerator program. Of those, 84 percent have collectively raised $7.4 billion in capital.

“Women had to find a way to do this. They’ve been building businesses on capital starvation for too long and I just didn’t want to have this continue,” Koplovitz said.

Joshua Henderson is vice president at Springboard, where he leads the resource hub and a community of experts to help advance the growth of women-led tech and life science companies.

Henderson has compiled and shared a list that he calls “The Complete Ecosystem Supporting Women-Led Tech Companies”, published recently on Medium. It includes funds that he says are investing in women-led firms.

The list includes names and links to the following:

  • Accelerators for Women-Led Companies
  • Co-Working for Women-Led Companies
  • Networks of Entrepreneurial Women
  • Networks of Women Investors
  • Investor Training Programs/Networks
  • Investors Targeting Women-Led/Diverse Companies
  • VC Funds Led by Female Partners
  • Crowdfunding for Women-Led Companies
  • Conferences for Entrepreneurial Women
  • Developing Women Tech Talent

How complete is this list?

Henderson updates the list frequently when he hears of a new initiative. “It’s a matter of spreading the word. The perfectionist in me came out,” he told Moguldom.com.

Innovation hubs are the main program at Springboard. All the companies that participate are women-led and they’re all raising capital, or will be. They attend a three-day boot camp where Springboard assesses their strengths and weaknesses.

“We surround them with a team of advisers to help them with messaging their business case and how to make connections to sources of funding — angels, corporate partners or experts who can help them.

“Then they go back home and we build a team virtually around them — including potential investors,” Henderson said.”

Henderson said he complied “The Complete Ecosystem Supporting Women-Led Tech Companies” through working with — or in some way interacting with — the companies listed on it.

“It’s is an exhaustive search combined with being in that space and devouring all the articles that come out,” he told Moguldom.com. “I’ve researched every other list that’s been out there. I hear about it pretty early. My alumni and advisers are good eyes and ears. We’re very collaborative at Springboard.”

The bulk of funding for Springboard is from corporate sponsorships — companies and organizations that have a strategic interest in promoting or investing in women-led companies. These include law firms, banks, healthcare, pharmaceutical and tech companies that want to acquire early stage companies. AARP, Aetna, CA Technologies, Venable, Covington and Guggenheim are among the Springboard sponsors.

Springboard’s work is important becausewomen-led companies are an under-served market, he said. “I believe its an incredible business opportunity”:

“A lot of those who control the sources of capital aren’t able to recognize good leadership when it doesn’t match their pattern recognition. We are giving exposure to great companies that are led by women that are different from the profile a lot of investors see. By having exposure, they (investors) can develop the ability to recognize talented women entrepreneurs or black entrepreneurs or expand their exposure to more diverse sources of talent.”

With a background in psychology and neuroscience, Henderson said he thinks a lot about pattern recognition and being an investor.

“By nature we know people have an unconscious bias and use pattern recognition for short cuts,” he said. “When minority groups don’t fit pattern recognition, people have difficulty recognizing that talent.”