A high-profile launchpad for startups is teaming up with big business to increase the paltry numbers of women working in the technology industry. With a big assist from Google, tech incubator 1871, is launching a new initiative, 1871FEMtech, to foster female-led startups, John Pletz writes at Crain’s Chicago Business.
Based in Chicago's Merchandise Mart — the biggest building in the world when it opened in 1930 — FEMtech, which starts in the fall, will help 10 to 15 women-owned tech start-ups a year and will launch with $500,000 to $1 million in support. Google's involvement in the project is part of a #40Forward, a $1 million effort to boost the number of women in tech by 25 percent and launch 40 incubators.
About 28 percent of the teams or companies at 1871 have a woman among their founders, and Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, says the success rate of tech startups with women is about 30 percent higher than startups overall.
There is continuing debate over how to include more women in tech, an industry which suffers from a severe gender gap at the highest levels. Getting more women to enroll in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees is a start; only 15 percent of freshman women at American colleges plan to declare a STEM major, compared to 29 percent of men, according to the Association of American Universities and Colleges. Women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, which the U.S. Department of Commerce attributes to a lack of female role models and gender stereotyping.
While there are reasons to celebrate female success in tech — Christian Science Monitor’s Karis Hustad lists companies like Goldieblox and Marissa Mayer’s leadership at Yahoo as recent examples — there is still a long way for women to go.
"We know the percentage of women in tech hasn't improved, that it's hovered around 7 to 8 percent," Tullman said. "There are a massive number of companies who want to make this sort of commitment, but we didn't have the mechanism to do anything."
Sharon Schneider, a CEO of Moxie Jean, a Chicago-area e-commerce startup, told Crain’s that Chicago’s startup scene doesn’t have such an “bro-gramming” culture as San Francisco, which some say is one of the "worst places" in America for the healthy development of companies and people.
Motorola Mobility Foundation and the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, the charitable group set-up by Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky and his wife, Liz, are also underwriting FEMtech.