EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Business

June 7, 2014

Startup lab offers women path to entrepreneurship

MENLO PARK, Calif. — In an unassuming office building here, there’s a group of startup founders working feverishly to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams, and not one of them is a Stanford University dropout in his 20s.

You won’t find baby-faced coders hunched over MacBooks, empty ramen containers or kegs of beer. Instead, you will find mothers and other women, most in their 40s and 50s, with backgrounds in fashion, music and law. Many have never worked in the tech industry or attempted a startup. Despite the odds stacked against them in the youth- and male-dominated Silicon Valley startup world, they are forging ahead.

“I have no fear,” said Jodi Murphy, 57, of San Mateo County, who joined the Women’s Startup Lab in February to build Geek Club Books, a storytelling app about children with autism. “Everything that I have done has led to this. Even though I am older, I literally leap out of bed every day, because this is my time for doing this.”

The lab also has an ambitious mission: To equip women founders with the skills they need to thrive in the macho tech industry, which has made it difficult for women to build and fund startups. According to research from the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit focused on education and entrepreneurship, between 2004 and 2007 women founded only 3 percent of technology firms. And just 1.3 percent of venture-backed startups have a female founder, while 6.5 percent have a woman as CEO, according to Dow Jones.

“A woman entrepreneur coming out of a place like the Women’s Startup Lab will be better prepared,” said Andrea Rees Davies, associate director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. “These women will have the strategies to cope.”

The dearth of women startup founders not only perpetuates the inequality that has long plagued the tech industry, experts say, but also creates a void of women role models needed to encourage more girls to pursue careers in tech.

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