By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Women entrepreneurs must stop hanging back, letting fear win, believing that being partners and parents precludes them from being successful business owners. They must push themselves to create businesses with scaleable ideas that can grow into multimillion or billion dollar companies. Those were a few of the key points panelists made during the Women in Technology Leadership and Entrepreneurship Forum RISE session Thursday.
Then there was the recommendation from Terry Chase Hazell, chair of the $400 million Texas Emerging Technology Fund Advisory that if you find yourself—like she was–seeking funding when you’re 8.5 months pregnant, don’t permit yourself to absentmindedly play with your belly button while you’re pitching.
The panel included Hazell, who has founded two successful biotech companies and recently founded Avinde accelerator; Meg Wilson, lecturer at IC2, UT’s international technological innovation think tank who has taught the executive master of science in Technology Commercialization at UT since it started in 1996. She’s also led science and technology advisement for two Texas governors; Rebecca Austen, who has worked to create and develop startups within IBM for decades and now manages skills and certification for IBM Systems & Technology Group sellers and business partners worldwide. Jani Byrne moderator, spent nearly a decade as IBM’s Director of Strategic Ventures and currently is Director of Marketing for Global Mid-Market, Enterprise & MSPs.
There were about 20 women in the audience at the IBM campus and Mike Hope, an app developer who was using RISE to “push himself out of his comfort zone.”
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone was the theme of the session. Byrne talked about finding “the gift of courage” by paragliding off a mountain. Austen skydived. Hazell talked about being pushed toward courage in a different way, when her mentor yelled her and hung up on her after Hazell expressed hesitation to take on the Texas technology fund, following some negative news coverage.
“She said, ‘This is exactly what you need to be doing. So go do it. Stop acting like a girl. If you were a man you would leap at the chance to handle something like this….’ Boy she made me mad. But then I said ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ It’s been a wild experience.”
Many women entrepreneurs think in terms of starting a small, service based business that’s not scaleable, she said. But then you’re working 70 hours a week and if you get sick, or pregnant, the business tanks.
To start a global, multi-million dollar company, you have to solve a problem that intersects with your passion. Without passion, you’re lost.
Keisha Bickham, one of the participants who works as management engineering director at St. David’s said she had numerous ideas for businesses based on her frustrations at work.
“I think every day, ‘Man, if somebody would just fix this…and this, if somebody would just fix this.”
A big company, Hazell said, has to start with a product people need that can be produced relatively inexpensively with large margins and that becomes less expensive to produce as volume rises. As an example, she mentioned the home blood sample kits sold by Spot on Science, winner of Wednesday night’s RISE fast pitch competition.
One possibility is to take technology that has been left behind in the U.S., say in healthcare or communications, and bring it to countries that haven’t arrived at that technology yet.
“We know that in getting the health care industry over this hump of automation and the proper degree of computerization there are a number of business opportunities,” Wilson said. “The opportunities are tremendous and so are the failures and so are the problems. There’s lots of competition. You can have an awesome software system for a medical practice that takes care of the billing and the patient records and the security and privacy issues but if you don’t properly scope the history and the competition, it’s not going to work. There’s an awful lot of information out there. The problem is to filter it so you can put it into a scaleable model and work it.”
It’s also key, when thinking about a global company, Byrne said, to thoroughly understand the culture of the country where you want to expand.
“What’s great in Austin, Texas may not fly in the middle of France in China in Africa. You have to spend time in that culture, really understanding the differences in the needs, how their day works. Here we start the day early and then we have happy hours.”
But when she was involved in a conference in the Middle East, she said, they tried to start at 8:30 or 9 a.m. but nobody showed up until 11 a.m.
Austen said, in working to create new companies within IBM, they had to work to find names for companies that didn’t signify something negative in the target country.
One participant asked about the risks of starting a business, knowing that marriage and children were in the offing and wondering how those would impact success. All the panelists agreed women shouldn’t let the idea of being partners or parents stop them from dreaming big. As CEO of her own company, Hazell said, she could bring her baby to work and nurse in the office.
“If the CEO is doing it, it’s company policy,” she said.
Women get daunted by the statistics, Hazell said.
“When we talk about odds,” she said, “women get fustigated with the statistics: Only so many businesses get over a million, only three percent of women entrepreneurs get funded….If we listen to statistics, we don’t do anything.”
“Statistically, you know who is most likely to kill you? Your significant other. But we still date! We have to pick the statistics to listen to and which ones not to. There are certain odds of not raising capital when you’re a woman. That doesn’t mean your particular odds are impacted. So pick a scaleable model, something that will work, and go date! He’s not likely to kill you.”