Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector, be it as investors (or associates), founders or in management positions at major companies. Is the problem the old boys network – or that success in technology is seen as a young man’s game? In this series, we speak with some of the top industry women in New York as they discuss the challenges they face, the perceptions that need to be changed and the work that’s being done – or not – to help to promote women in tech.
Today we hear from Kelly Hoey, catalyst, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Women Innovate Mobile, one of “40 Women Over 40 To Watch” and 1 of 100 innovators on British Airway’s inaugural UnGrounded SFO to LHR Innovation Lab.
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as an female entrepreneur?
My biggest challenge is that I don’t know how to code! I’m working through SkillCrush and intend to focus on learning to code a little more. I have to master one language (other than high school French). Next challenge, is not having enough hours in the day. I’d like a little more time for reflection and creativity – it feels like a lot of scrambling and try to catch-up, some days. Most of my other challenges are solved by having great partners in WIM (Deborah Jackson and Veronika Sonsev), amazing advisors to WIM (Holly Lynch) and a broad, connected network to tap into (or to reach out to for a sanity check).
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
Time and visibility. There are some amazing female-founded companies being launched in New York and with time, there will be significant exits (finger crossed) for these founders. Their success will do more to promote female entrepreneurship than anything else. So on that chain of thought, I encourage AlleyWatch readers to give female entrepreneurs their business.
What is being done that you like presently?
I like that there is more action than talk/whitepapers/analysis going on right now. I like that women are taking risks and founding companies. I like that younger women are joining startups vs pursuing the “safe” corporate career path. I like that women are learning to code through programs like SkillCrush, Girls Who Code and Girl Develop It! I like that in addition to Springboard, Astia and Golden Seeds, there are new angel groups forming, such as Pipeline Fellowship, 37 Angels and TopStone Angels, which are getting women to think investment, not simply philanthropy. I like that there are great men out there supporting and investing in women. And yes, I like what we’re doing with Women Innovate Mobile….
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship? Or, do you do anything personally to help promote women in technology?
I sit on the advisory boards of several female founded startups (Levo League, Lion’esque Style, Buzz Target). I’m on Third Wave Fashion’s advisory board, an advisor to Remodista, part of Girls Who Code’s brain trust, a Women 2.0 influencer and a member of SUNY Levin’s Women Entrepreneurs and Investors Advisory Council. I am also a mentor for Omaha, Nebraska based startup accelerator Straight Shot. I started angel investing after completing the Pipeline Fellowship. I was one of the 130 innovators who participated in British Airway’s UnGrounded Initiative (innovation lab at 30,000 feet). I was on Team Altitude which was tackling the issue of women in STEM and was on the winning, Team AdvisHer. What rocks my world is being a mentor and seeing other people succeed. Three of my mentees are young women who code/are computer scientists (a college graduate, a college senior and a 13 year-old super nova).
Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) is a member of the Coalition for Women in Technology. WIM actively collaborates with Women in Wireless, Third Wave Fashion, NY Tech Women, Digital UnDivided and others on events, programming etc. WIM has supported women developer-focused hackathons with espnW and AT&T. On July 8, WIM hosted a lunch for the State Department’s 2013 Tech Girls program, bringing together women in technology (founders, CTOs, investors, advisors) to meet (and mentor) the participants in this program.
Do you feel investors have a different mindset when it comes to investing in a woman-run company?
We’ll slowly break out of “pattern recognition” with respect to tech founders. Try as we might, we all bring out preconceived notions and baggage with us into our work days, so it should not be surprising that issues come up when pitching someone who doesn’t look like you or speak like you or have your life/career/educational experiences or world perspective (safe to say that the majority of investors – VCs, angels, strategics – don’t look like the current crop of founders). From my vantage point, the current pattern recognition of “who” is a tech founder, leaves a world of investment opportunity for the rest of us. I also like to remind people that very few startups ever receive outside investment (angel or VC). Best way to not worry about the mindset of investors or challenges of pitching to them, is to generate revenue.
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than are their male counterparts?
I think Hillary Clinton’s reference to “pantsuit aficionado” in her Twitter bio sums it up perfectly.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
WIM is a startup (seed) accelerator. Seed accelerators are for-profit type of startup incubator, with an open application process, taking in classes of startups consisting of small teams, supporting them with funding, mentoring, training and events for a finite period (typically three months), in exchange for equity. WIM focuses on accelerating the growth of mobile or mobile-first startup venture founded by women. We launched WIM in 2011 as we saw the opportunity in the investment gap in the market (few women-founded startups participating in existing accelerator programs). To change the entrepreneurial ecosystem, not only do more women need to found companies, but those early-stage ventures which are tackling big problems and have the potential to scale, need to be supported with resources (funding, access to networks, introductions) – and this is where WIM fits in.