Friday, July 12, 2013

Women Entrepreneurs Becoming a Focus

By Alex Pearlstein, Director of Projects.

Gates, Ellison, Zuckerberg, Brin, Andreessen, McNealy, Grove… The list of famous technology entrepreneurs is a long one, but also a very male one. One is hard-pressed to think of a woman who is mentioned in the same pantheon as these tech giants. You look at the enrollments of just about any engineering or computer science program in a major research university and the likelihood is that the percentage of male students will be in the upper 80s or 90s. A great example is my grad school alma mater, Georgia Tech, with its infamous “ratio” of 70 percent male students to 30 percent female (though recent classes have been increasingly balanced, with the 2011 entering cohort consisting of 38 percent women). As forlorn Tech women looking for a date are wont to say, “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” Tech has long had a Women In Engineering program to try to increase female interest and enrollment in engineering professions, but success has been difficult to come by. Numerous other institutions are also focused on attracting women into STEM programs and industries.

A new initiative in Nashville, Tennessee takes educational programs a step further by providing opportunities and guidance for women looking to become technology entrepreneurs. The program is called Evolve, which will be run out of the city’s new Entrepreneur Center and will seek to provide female entrepreneurs with resources such as access to investors and feedback on their business ideas. According to the founder of Evolve, the issue is not that women aren’t starting businesses, it’s that they aren’t always taking advantage of the support resources that are available to them.

With high-profile women such as Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard and Marissa Meyer at Yahoo attempting to right the ships of major technology companies gone astray, there are increasingly visible examples of female executives making headway in a male-dominated industry. Perhaps a new generation of women who have grown up with and around ubiquitous technology will equalize the STEM ratio one of these years as they start to graduate from master’s and PhD programs into the workforce and start and scale good ideas into companies. Maybe it will take a true “Billie” Gates to serve as a role model for a new generation of female entrepreneurs. Regardless, the real and projected shortages of STEM talent in today’s and tomorrow’s economy make it almost a mandate that the “odds” get worse for female Georgia Tech students now and into the future.