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‘The Onlys’: There Still Aren’t Enough Women at the Table

The last time Kaitlin Savage attended a meeting that included another woman was months ago. Savage works in the solar industry, in which men outnumber women 3 to 1. The majority of her time is spent surrounded by men, who at times, she said, underestimate her work, flirt with her, call her after midnight for “personal reasons” and give her inappropriate compliments.

“It’s emotionally exhausting,” said Savage, who’s considered switching to a less heavily male-dominated field, like oil and gas.

She’s part of a group that a new survey from and McKinsey & Co. calls “Onlys”: women who are often or always the only female in the room at work. One in five women place themselves in this category, according to the survey of more than 64,000 U.S. employees at 279 companies. That number rises to 40 percent for women in senior or technical roles.

Onlys face more challenges in the workplace than other women, the survey found. Half of these women said they need to provide more evidence of their competence than others do. Onlys are twice as likely as other women surveyed to be mistaken for someone junior. These women are also almost twice as likely to be subjected to demeaning comments and twice as likely to report having experienced sexual harassment in their careers.

“This was my entire career, basically,” said Kristen Fanarakis, who spent 15 years working in finance. She was a part of many all-male teams and didn’t have a female friend at work until she was in her 30s, she said.

Although Fanarakis had many supportive male colleagues and mentors over the years, she said, other men treated her with disrespect. One boss told her she could “handle the nappies,” she recalled. Another held her to impossible standards, giving her poor performance reviews even though she brought in new business and met all of her goals, she said.

These experiences are even worse for women of color. Almost half said they’re often the only person of their race at work. These women are more likely to feel excluded, scrutinized and closely watched, the survey found. Maura Cheeks, an MBA student, has written about having her identity mistaken for another black woman in the office and having to explain her credentials to colleagues.

More than 90 percent of the companies surveyed said diversity and inclusion is a top priority, but for the fourth year in a row, Lean In and McKinsey found that corporate America has made almost no progress in increasing women’s representation in the workplace. Women make up 48 percent of entry-level employees but only 22 percent of the C-suite, as companies fail to promote women, the study found.

Even those who do make it past the early stages of their careers aren’t likely to stay. Onlys are more ambitious than other women, the Lean In/McKinsey study found: Almost half said they want the top job, and almost 80 percent said they want to be promoted. But they’re less likely to stay at their own company; more than a third of Onlys said they’re thinking about leaving their jobs in the next two years.

“You have a group of women who are put in very isolating and scrutinized positions,” said Rachel Thomas, the co-founder and president of Lean In. “You would hypothesize the reason they are leaving is because they are having an experience that is markedly worse than other women.”

Fanarakis, for one, eventually left her finance career behind. Being an Only “takes a physical and emotional toll,” she said. She went to business school, wrote a book, and in 2017 launched a women’s workwear startup.

Thomas suspects that many companies check the diversity box by hiring just one or two women. It’s a strategy that hurts more than it helps, she said.

At her first job out of college, Molly Oswaks was one of two women on staff at the tech news site Gizmodo. She said her colleagues posted pornographic content in the company group chat, adding that readers would harass her in the comments section of her stories, saying she’d slept her way to the job. “There was no respect for the fact that women were there,” she said. “It was just like, I was the girl that they plucked to have a girl on staff.” (Gizmodo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

The benefits of diversity don’t kick in with tokenism. Studies have found that if women make up 20 percent of a group, they account for only 10 percent of the conversation. Women need to constitute a supermajority to make up 50 percent of talk time in a group.

“These companies want a diversity of ideas,” Thomas said, but hiring the bare minimum number of women produces “a diluted form of diversity.”


EU-Backed Fund to Invest 2.1 Billion Euros in Startups

The European Union will back a new 2.1 billion euro ($2.6 billion) pool of financing to support venture capital investments in the region.

It will provide 410 million euros for a new program, VentureEU, which will invest in six venture capital fund of funds. The additional money will come from other private and public sources, the European Commission said in a statement Tuesday

The goal is to generate 6.5 billion euros in new funding for the region’s startup companies, it said, and the the initial 410 million euros from the European Commission will be administered through the European Investment Fund (EIF).

The EIF itself already acts as an anchor investor in many European venture capital funds. But the new VentureEU fund, by choosing to use professional fund of funds managers, is designed to “ensure a real market approach,” the commission said.

The six fund of funds managers selected to receive the money are Aberdeen Standard Investments, Axon Partners Group, Isomer Capital, LGT, Lombard Odier Asset Management and Schroder Adveq. These firms will, in turn, invest in a variety of European-based venture capital funds.

The inclusion of funds such as Aberdeen Standard and Isomer Capital, which are registered in the U.K., is significant given that the EIF had been reluctant to provide new funding for British-based venture capital funds following the U.K.’s June 2016 vote to leave the EU.

The EIF issued a statement the day after the Brexit referendum noting the result “with regret.” It said the fund’s future activity in the U.K. would be decided as “part of the broader discussions to determine the future relationship of the U.K. with Europe and European bodies.”

Carlos Moedas, the EU commissioner for research, science, and innovation, said the new pool of funding was “vital for Europe to remain an industrial leader and economic powerhouse.”

Michael Collins, the chief executive officer of Invest Europe, a trade association for European private equity and venture capital firms, said the new pool of money was “a great step forward for investment in European innovation.”

Europe has traditionally suffered from a scarcity of venture capital funding compared to other regions. In the U.S., more than $155 billion in venture capital was invested last year. In Asia, more than $48 billion was invested in fast-growing young businesses.

(Updates with context throughout.)


Who Run the World? Women-Led Startups Raise $7B in VC

If your company has at least one female founder, you’re a part of this statistic.

US companies with at least one female founder brought in $7.2 billion in venture capital funding in 2018 so far. That’s a marked improvement from $12.3 billion raised in the whole of 2017, a small percentage (15%) of $81.9 billion, the total money raised by startups last year.

The icing on the cake? This includes four rounds of at least $100 million: Philadelphia-based biotech company Tmunity‘s $135 million financing, Silicon Valley-based Twist Bioscience‘s $125 million round, NYC-based wedding planning startup Zola and our very own office catering service, ezCater.

Image courtesy: Pitchbook

A study conducted earlier this year found Massachusetts ranked at the bottom, 46 out of 50, in supporting women who start businesses trailing behind New Hampshire, Connecticut and Nebraska. One of the factors responsible for this is that the percentage of female entrepreneurs is lower than the national average.

But things are changing – the percentage might be low but Boston is still home to several companies including ArtLifting, AustismSees, Bevi, ezCater, Wanderu, that are led by women. Not only that, this year’s MassChallenge was proud to have 51 percent of companies with at least one female founder. Also, don’t forget that the budding cannabis industry in the state has a strong female command. 

The startup community is building resources for female entrepreneurs in the city with initiatives like #AtTheTable, a dinner series that each month brings about a dozen women together just to hang out and socialize. Other women-focused programs in Boston include Female Founder Office Hours, during which top female VCs met entrepreneurs for 30-minute one-on-one meetings and  XFactor Ventures, a micro-fund from Flybridge Capital Partners that only invests in female-founded startups. There is also Converge, a women-led venture capital firm run by Maia Heymann and Nilanjana Bhowmik.

Which of These Countries Will Be Europe’s Next Big Tech Hub?

A guest article by Berlin-based entrepreneur and journalist Dana Knight

When it comes to established startup centres, the common view is that Europe is made up of a few interconnected hubs dominated by the London — Berlin — Paris tech axis. In fact, the European startup ecosystem is much more varied, and is rapidly changing. Last year alone, EarlyBird invested in Peak Games in Turkey and Socialbakers in Prague, Carto in Spain, and the incoming rush of blockchain-based startups has seen major growth in places like Switzerland (home to Zug’s “Crypto Valley”), Sweden, and a number of Baltic states.

There are several objective criteria one could use to gauge what the next big tech hubs in Europe are going to be. For example: the number of impressive exits from that country, or the number of startups representing a particular country at Demo Days and other tech events. Another decisive factor that points to a healthy startup ecosystem is the crop of successful female founders emerging from it. For modern startups, it’s not just about having flashy tech or cornering a market segment, it’s about creating platforms and businesses that offer a more sustainable and positive future for its users and employees alike.

The European tech scene is much more spread out than it once was, with impressive new startups and ideas popping up all over the continent. Here are just five of Europe’s most promising under-the-radar tech hubs:


Warsaw at night // Photo via Kamil Griwinski

The most recent Startupbootcamp Demo Day Berlin featured three ambitious digital health startups from Poland. Two of them, AISENSand CardioCube, use AI to achieve optimized orthosis and cardiovascular health respectively. Biolumo, which was founded by a female doctorpreneur, Olga Grudniak, aims to solve the problem of antibiotic resistance by streamlining and updating the testing process.

Grudniak is definitely not alone on the Polish tech scene. According to a StartupPoland survey, 30% of Polish startups are founded by women, a high ratio even compared to other European countries. The platform BookLikes, highly influential in the book-blogging community, was founded by Joanna Grzelak-Piaskowska in 2011 and already made an exit in 2016 after a successful US launch. Equally well-known are Prowly, a tool for solving the needs of the PR industry, founded by Joanna Drabent in 2013 and SIDLY, a telemedicine wristband, founded by Edyta Kocyk in 2014.


Bucharest, Romania // Photo via Ilie Micu

The recent news that UiPath, a Romanian startup that builds software robots for enterprises that automate legacy and back-office functions, raised an impressive Series B round of $153M at $1.1B valuation, is yet another reason to include Romania on the European tech map.

Romanian engineers enjoy a solid reputation in the tech space and many startups around the world are outsourcing their tech talent here. In particular, Digital Mob, a blockchain development studio, has played an instrumental role in the growth of decentralized technology over the past three years, designing multiple platforms including Tokit and Alethio.

Further, the country has a remarkable history of female entrepreneurial DNA. Appticles, co-founded by Alexandra Angel in 2010, is a Software-as-a-Service platform that helps online publishers better target their mobile audience by packaging their content into mobile and tablet applications. Smart Bill, an invoicing software for the Romanian market was developed by Ioana Hasan as early as 2007 and received a $1M investment from two VC funds in 2016. Vector Watch, co-founded by Irina Alexandru in 2014, a smart watch with a 30-day battery life that lets people focus on what’s important, was acquired by Fitbit in early 2017.


Talinn, Estonia // Photo by Ilya Orehov

With a groundbreaking (and pretty cool) e-government and startup visa programme, Estonia is one of the liveliest startup communities in Europe, in spite of being quite small. Skype, Transferwise, Pipedrive, and Taxify were all founded here. In 2017, Estonia country saw 3 exits (TeleportPlanetOSZeroTurnaround), raising 270M in the process.

With the third highest number of startups per capita in Europe, it’s no surprise that female entrepreneurs are many in Estonia. Funderbeam, founded in 2013 by Kaidi Ruusalepp, is the world’s startup marketplace, a blockchain powered platform that delivers capital to startups and liquidity to investors worldwide. Jobbatical, founded in 2014 by Karoli Hindriks, is a platform that connects professionals with short-term international career adventures. In 2016, Testlio, customer-focused mobile app testing startup closed $6.25M in series A funding, led by Altos Ventures and Vertex Ventures. Testlio now has an office both in Tallinn and Silicon Valley and half of the employees are women.


Riga, Latvia // Photo by Diego Delso

As the first Baltic country in the area to experiment with building startup friendly regulation, things really started moving in Latvia after TechHubopened their second office–after London–in Riga in 2011. The ecosystem is not voluminous — with around 300 startups, most of them established in the capital — but highly united and energised by the most raved-about tech event in the area, TechChill. It has been going strong for the past six years, and is the centrepiece of the Latvian tech community.

And the country has its fair share of female entrepreneurs. Alise Semjonova, a graphic designer, founded her company Infogram in 2012. This is a data visualisation platform to help young companies put forward a visually impressive message, capable of capturing readers’ attention. Another female founder working in this field is Anna Andersone who in 2012 created Froont, a flexible web design tool for professional designers. Equally aware of the importance of the visual in our culture, Ksenija Rostova founded Inselly in 2013. This is an Instagram marketplace and easy tool for mobile selling as well as a destination for inspirational Instagram shopping.


Having just opened its StartUP Visa program on March 15 this year, Portugal seems determined to attract investment, innovation and talented international entrepreneurs to its shores. But this is not to say that the country is lacking in national tech talent and initiative. As early as 2010, Sofia Pessanha has helped to build the innovation ecosystem in Lisbon with her incubator Beta-i and later started Unbabel, a Y Combinator company combining AI and professional translators to deliver fast translation services with human tone and nuance.

Another successful startup with Portuguese roots is Chic by Choice, one of Europe’s leading luxury marketplaces that allows women to rent designer dresses and accessories at a fraction of the retail price. Its cofounder, Filipa Neto, managed to raise a €520,000 investment for her startup at the age of 23.

And to show just how in touch with the entrepreneurial lifestyle Portugal is, there’s a startup that helps you cook while you sleep! Mellow is using a cooking method called sous-vide that is commonly employed by top restaurants in the world. The time-saving machine cooks everything to perfection using air bubbles produced in a heated water bath. It takes 30 seconds to set up, it is controllable by smartphone and comes equipped with built-in refrigeration and an in-app assistant chef. Busy entrepreneurs can now not only work but also cook remotely, making one wonder what other things technology will enable us to do remotely in the near future.



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