There has been a lot of pessimism around the issue of women in technology and the startup world during #LDNTechWeek: there are less than one in four women on boards of technology companies, the proportion of women in tech is “disastrous”, and men are twice as likely to get VC funding over women.
But there is a bright spot, and no, it’s not that London is now home to what could be described as a whole herd of unicorns!
The good news is that while there is still a gender gap, it has been closing, especially in London. The recently released Startup DNA study shows that around 29% of startup founders in the UK are women, a huge jump on the global norm of 18%, and London’s largest accelerator reflects a similar upward trend: MassChallenge just announced that 39% of their global startups from Boston and London have at least one female founder.
As Russ Shaw and another Tech London Advocates pointed out at the beginning of London Tech Week, the issue of diversity should not be third or fourth on the list of priorities for the tech community, it should be number one.
MassChallenge believes in this mission to support women in tech and entrepreneurship and we have made it a priority since our founding in Boston in 2010. A historically high number of female founders in our cohorts reflects that ethos. Some factors which lead to MassChallenge’s gender diversity are specific to the model, but some can be replicated by others in the wider ecosystem.
We believe MassChallenge has a unique model among others in the startup accelerator industry. It is a large-scale programme (90 startups in London alone) that supports entrepreneurs in any industry and takes zero equity from the startups it supports.
We also look for “high-impact” and “high potential” startups, and in our applications and recruiting we challenge startups to think about their successes and futures in different ways. This is not to say that our startups don’t perform as well in terms of typical metrics of success: our alumni have raised nearly $1bn in funding and have generated nearly $500m in revenue.
One of the 2015 MassChallenge UK finalists, Compare and Share founder Benita Matofska, said that what attracted her to the programme was the large community of entrepreneurs and a focus on “impact” as well as profits: “I think defining success in a broader way is appealing for female entrepreneurs. We want to be what eBay was for the second-hand market or Kayak for airlines, but just focusing on profits isn’t as compelling as we are purpose-driven as well as profit-driven.”
Once inside the programme, MassChallenge hosts weekly meetups for interested female entrepreneurs to connect as well as a public event called ‘Women in MassChallenge’ to celebrate female entrepreneurship (this year it will be on 3 September). This provides extra support to women entrepreneurs, helping to build their network, gain mentorship and work through struggles they encounter in the industry, which helps with retention, engagement, and ultimately recommending the programme to other female entrepreneurs. We hope it also encourages more women to go into the industry through seeing more role models in these positions and encouraging each other to go into the industry.
“Startups have a lot to improve upon with respect to diversity in tech,” said our CEO John Harthorne. “It is only through close collaboration by the entire ecosystem can we truly tap into the entrepreneurial potential of the innovation community.”
The good news is that industries can and do change, and we are starting to see the needle move in the right direction. Is it there yet? No. But we can and should learn from what has worked so far and keep the momentum going.
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