May 14, 2018
Other Voices

Women startups don’t get a fair shake

Sondra Lintelmann-Dellaripa

It's damn hard for women to get traction in this startup ecosystem.

That's where I am emotionally and intellectually right now.

I'm the founder of BLOSSOM, a startup e-learning system that uses curriculum and coaches in a virtual environment to teach critical business skills and operational practices to nonprofit professionals. There's a big audience to be tapped in the nonprofit sector: 1.5 million nonprofits to be exact. It's also a big economic market: Nonprofits spend over $7 billion a year in staff training and educational opportunities. And BLOSSOM solves a big problem: Experts in nonprofit research indicate professionals leading nonprofit organizations must learn and grow innovatively to create sustainable organizations.

And decade's worth of studies show that current offerings in building the capacity of these professionals just aren't working. No one yet has designed what we have.

So why can't we get people in the startup sphere to say "yes" to our startup?

I am a multi-preneur, having started and operated three businesses before BLOSSOM. Each year we enter BLOSSOM into the MassChallenge startup accelerator competition in Boston, at their invitation and request. One of the premier accelerator competitions, we are pursued like a blonde cheerleader on prom night to apply. We even get the fee waived. Ok, I get it. I fill a quota. Female startup founder as applicant. Check the box.

But each year we get summarily rejected. No market for the idea, the judges say. No money in nonprofits, they warn. Instead, they choose tech apps, bioengineer products, and other male-dominated concepts.

And it's not just MassChallenge. When it comes to competing for attention and funding in state innovation centers, startup competitions or with angel investors, women are just not in the club.

No, I'm not paranoid. Crunchbase, the leading data collector on business trends, found that in 2017 only 17 percent of all startups nationally had a female founder. And of those startups receiving funding, only 15.8 percent were female-led. Even more remarkable (horrifying?) is that female-founded companies raise just 8 percent of late-stage rounds and 7 percent of late-stage dollars.

The issue, as stated by Susan Lane of BBG Ventures for Crunchbase, is not the number of women starting companies, but the access and offer of funding as they move up the food chain.

Having attended the women-owned business day at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on May 2, I thought it was time to bring this issue to the public square. Women-led startups just can't get traction in the ecosystem.

Can we please talk about this?

Sondra Lintelmann-Dellaripa is president and principal consultant of Middletown-based Harvest Development Group LLC, a consulting and staffing firm.

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