By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
That’s Jan Ryan’s only rule for Women@Austin events at Capital Factory. The meetings provide a receptive environment for female entrepreneurs to connect and learn from each other while enjoying wine and hors d’oeuvres.
“Authenticity is what makes the magic for women,” Ryan said. “And being able to talk to each other with our guards down is when we learn.”
And since the group launched last February, Women@Austin has become extremely popular. The events have filled up within days of being announced and always have a waitlist.
For Austin Startup Week, the event filled up within five days with 140 women and a few men registered and a waitlist of 78 people, Ryan said.
The group also focuses on educating women-led startups about finding funding. Babson College recently released a study showing that women entrepreneurs have made considerable progress since 1999 in getting venture capital, but a wide gender gap still exists.
The study found “the amount of early-stage investment in companies with a woman on the executive team has tripled to 15 percent from 5 percent in the last 15 years.” Yet despite that progress, “85 percent of all venture capital-funded businesses have no women on the executive team.” And just 2.7 percent of venture capital funded companies had a woman CEO.
The event also featured a special “Elevate” award given to Jimmy Treybig, founder of Tandem Computers and a venture capitalist in Austin since 1996. He’s been a big supporter of many female-founded companies in Austin and serves on many boards, Ryan said.
In a brief talk, Treybig advised entrepreneurs looking to raise money to study the VC firms and angels before approaching them. Entrepreneurs need to find out if the VC firm invest in their field, how much they invest, whether they invest in new entrepreneurs with little experience and whether they invest in Austin and does the VC have money, Treybig said.
Seventeen VCs turned down Treybig when he started Tandem.
Women entrepreneurs also need to research whether the VC firm has female partners, Treybig said.
“Or do they have a man that has worked with women all of their life, like me, and realize how special, how smart, how motivated and how much contribution women can make and that’s never a question,” Treybig said. “If there isn’t either a women or that type of man, then I wouldn’t spend time…or I would put it way down the list.”
“The main point is there are two types of VCs,” Treybig said. “One type is VCs that have run companies. Others are financial VCs. They might not have worked with a lot of women.”
For Naturally Curly, now known as TextureMedia, Treybig found Golden Seeds of New York to invest in the women-run company. Now Mike Maples Jr.’s VC Firm Floodgate Ventures, which invests in Austin startups, has a woman as a partner, Treybig said.
Lastly, women entrepreneurs must be able to show investors how they will get their money back and make a profit on the investment, Treybig said.
Ingrid Vanderveldt, former Entrepreneur in Residence at Dell, also spoke briefly about Belle Capital Austin, a venture fund she’s heading up locally that invests in women-run tech companies.
The event concluded with a 30-minute panel discussion on lessons learned from women run firms. The panelists included Jeanette Hill, founder of Spot on Sciences, founded in 2010, Crista Bailey, CEO of TextureMedia, founded in 1998, and Zeynep Young, founder of Double Line Partners, founded in 2009.
Ryan asked the panelists to talk about some of their failures and lessons learned from their ventures.
Hill advised new entrepreneurs to make sure that they have a good product and market fit. The product doesn’t sell itself, she said. It’s important to know how to market and sell it.
Bailey told new entrepreneurs to raise as much as money as they can to give their idea some gas.
Young advised new entrepreneurs not to give big titles to early employees. Reserve those titles for when the company grows and becomes successful so that those titles will be there to hire on the talent to grow the company, she said.