Sunday, September 30, 2012

Subverting the Gender Gap in Entrepreneurship

Just because we don't often talk about the glass ceiling in the startup world, doesn't mean it isn't there.  A study commissioned by the Kauffman Foundation, “Overcoming the Gender Gap: Women Entrepreneurs as Economic Drivers,” helps to shed some light on a phenomenon that remains scarcely discussed despite its massive impact on the economy.  The report highlights a number of distressing trends and statistics that exemplify the gender gap in young companies.  For instance,   

  • Women have made far more significant strides in established tech companies and university systems than in startups.

  • Just 1.8 percent of women-owned firms have revenues more than $1 million, versus 6.3 percent of men-owned firms. 

  • Most Americans who start businesses do so as self-employed professionals or service providers – only a fraction have firms that employ others, and that fraction remains smaller for women. 

Intuitively, these feel like symptoms of pervasive cultural prejudices, which can be as damaging as they are hard to pin down.  The following comment from a business owner named Susan Roth, eloquently sums it up:  “As much as we may not like to admit it," says Roth, 

"the world is still a ‘Good Ole Boys Club.’  When women reach a certain level of success, I believe they experience push back from their male counterparts in the business community.  It’s subtle and may only be a word here or a phrase there, but it’s real.  As a result many women lose confidence and begin doubting themselves.  I’ve been running a successful, woman-owned business for over 25 years and have developed a thick skin over time.  But it still hurts when a supplier labels you ‘relentless’ and ‘picky.’  I’m sure if I were a man, the moniker would change to ‘tough, precise, exacting and good businessman.’  In short, there’s still progress to be made.”  

While the Kauffman report presents a wealth of interesting findings, its actionable next steps remain somewhat limited.  Here are some suggestions for what we can do to help challenge the gender gap in entrepreneurship (and please feel free to critique and/or add this list with comments!):

1. Get involved with organizations that train, support and fund female entrepreneurs

How many of the following organizations have you heard of, let alone contacted, visited or actively supported?  They almost always need help from professionals –- whether as volunteers, donors, consultants, or advocates.

  • Women’s Initiative --assists high-potential, low-income women who dream of business ownership. 

  • DigitalunDivided --develops programs, projects and forward thinking initiatives that bridge the digital divide. 

Other local orgs that support women entrepreneurs include:

2. Use crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter to support female entrepreneurs

The popular crowdfunder has been under pressure to make its system more transparent and its entrepreneurs more accountable.  If you’re more interested in microlending with an international scope, consider lending to low-income entrepreneurs around the world using Kiva

3. Turn up the pressure on VCs and angels to hire, promote and fund women

The professional investor community is dominated by men.  The average percentage of women venture capitalists at top VC firms has been found to be around 8%.  Not surprisingly, only 4-9% of all VC funding goes to female-lead companies. 

The power to change the status quo ultimately rests with the limited partners (LPs) who supply the cash for VC funds.  Venture capitalists have a vested interest in keeping their LPs happy.  Pension funds like CalPERS, universities with massive endowments (think: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Penn), investment banks, sovereign wealth funds, and powerful accredited investors who serve as LPs need to demand more inclusivity of women-lead startups and female VC partners. 

4. Create new women-lead venture firms, angel groups, incubators and accelerators

For reasons that probably deserve a whole separate study, fewer women then men with similar backgrounds in finance, engineering and/or operations find their into roles as financiers backing startup companies.  One potential strategy to address the apparent lack of opportunities for women in the investment world is to partner with women professionals to create new investment firms with a more inclusive set of values.  It's also important to actively encourage more women to fight for roles as professional investors after they have been proven to be successful in other fields. 

5. Encourage business schools to recruit and entice more female MBA candidates to participate in entrepreneurship programs, internships and competitions.  

Business school alumni need to demand that their alma maters integrate more female students into their entrepreneurship programs and electives.  "Want me to cut you a check?  First tell me what you’re doing to recruit and support female MBAs with an interest in starting a new business!"  If you have friends who have been to b-school, encourage them to connect with female entrepreneurs and help expand their network.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Growing Pains: How Creators Can Expand Their Comfort Zones to Evolve as Professionals

There’s something to be said for pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. 

For many artists, craftspeople and other creative professionals – let’s just call them creators – it can be incredibly daunting to launch, operate and/or grow a small business.  Even just the terms “business” and “businessperson” tend to carry a lot of ugly baggage.  While many creators are accustomed to regularly pushing the envelope of their own imaginations, a self-defeating attitude about the world of business can too easily obstruct their professional growth. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own comfort zones lately.  I have never considered myself very athletic.  All throughout school I was almost always the shortest kid in my class.  As a result, I went out of my to avoid playing sports –- I always saw myself as more of an artsy, creator type.  I did drama instead, wrote a satirical newsletter, played in a band –- pretty much anything and everything as long as a true physical challenge wasn’t involved.  When left to my own devices, I’m not really a big fan of physical pain, discomfort and, you know, sweating.  I’m also not so keen on trying new things that don’t feel immediately natural and intuitive. 

Extreme physical challenges are one of my fear-spheres, one the realms that lies beyond my immediate comfort zone.  I bring this up because last weekend I took part in a two-day, 130-mile bike ride.  While I’ve been a regular bike commuter for about four years, prior to my training for the MS Ride: Waves to Wine, the longest distance ride I had ever been on was about 33 miles, and that was pretty intense.  I really jumped into the deep-end with this one.  The first day alone, I rode nearly 80 miles, tackling over 4000 feet worth of elevation gain. 

Here's a diagram of some of my own fear-spheres.  The fear (of failure, discomfort, humiliation, etc.) that accompanies my perceived weaknesses serves to compress my comfort zone, rendering it unnecessarily limited in scope and depth.   

The Waves to Wine experience showed me that I’m actually stronger, both mentally and physically, than I gave myself credit for.  There were several stretches during the ride where I wanted to quit, or at least stop pedaling and walk my bike up during an uphill section.  But somehow I kept going.  In part because I had support from my wife and teammates, but even more so because I had an inner dialogue with myself that persuaded me that while the actual experience of discomfort is fleeting, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from pushing past discomfort carries with you and energies you for a long time to come. I’m not saying that everyone should go out and buy a road bike or sign up to run a marathon –- it just so happens that for me, personally, that kind of extreme physical challenge was a major fear-sphere.   
Strategically pushing myself to tackle new challenges serves a dual purpose:  First, it enables me to incorporate a prior fear-sphere into my comfort zone, allowing my overall confidence to expand.  It also renders my other fear-spheres significantly less daunting and more manageable. 
Not unlike the instruction you would get from a sports coach, holistic business coaching helps to stretch you outside of your comfort zone, in order to build your confidence in realms that previously seemed foreign, confounding, or downright scary.  If you happen to be a creator who wants to launch or grow a small business of your own, I hope that you will consider working with Inclusiva Strategies. In the meantime, here are some basic steps to help you flex your fear-cannibalizing muscles:

1. Map out your Comfort Zone and brainstorm the Fear Spheres that lie beyond.  Sit down for 15-20 minutes and come up with a list of activities that make you feel completely at east.  This could be your craft, a favorite hobby, hanging out with friends, etc.  Then brainstorm the realms that freak you out or make you feel uncomfortable, self-defeating, or embarrassed.  For many this might include things like public speaking, talking about money, receiving negative feedback, etc.

2. Push yourself in ways seemingly unrelated to business or your craft.  Try a new sport, musical instrument, language or type or free reading.  But please, no underwater basket weaving.  Flexing seemingly disparate muscle groups will build your overall confidence and tolerance for the discomfort and resistance that naturally accompanies the process of professional growth.

3. Ask for support and offer it to others.  While comfort zones are highly personal and individualized, the process of expanding them almost always requires some form of external support.  Ask your friends, family and colleagues for support and encouragement as you take on a new challenge – chances are they will eager to help however they can.  Also consider  mentoring someone pursuing something that already lies within your comfort zone.    

4. Focus on the process, rather than the results.  There's an old cliche that entrepreneurship is all about embracing failure – failure is good, they say.  I think that’s a bit misleading.  Failure itself is definitely not good.  But being willing to fail in pursuit of true growth actually enables success.  Some fear-spheres will simply prove to be more intractable  than others, so the reward must come from the process of gradually chipping away at them, rather than some kind of instant gratification. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

5 Invaluable Resources for Starting & Running a Small Business

When looking to start a new business, or develop an existing one, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of information and advice out there.  So, for my first substantive LBBB post, I thought I’d share some invaluable resources that small business owners can use to help stay informed, aware and educated. 

#5 –

Politicians talk a lot about supporting entrepreneurship these days…without saying much about how they aim to do it.  Luckily, the federal government already provides some basic informational resources for creating and operating small businesses.  The trick is that it takes a bit of doing to sort through it all and find the information that actually applies to you.  Nevertheless, is a great starting point for any small business owner or entrepreneur.  In particular, the materials on how to create a business plan and marketing plan are fairly well done.  (In a future post, I’ll be sure to take some time to delve more into my favorite specific resources for business planning.)

#4 – The Wall Street Journal’s Small Business Section “Must-Reads”

Small business owners (in every industry) will benefit from staying informed about current market trends, news and strategies.  Even if you have less than zero interest in subscribing, The Wall Street Journal maintains a small online section targeted at startups and small businesses where it compiles each day’s “must-read” articles that should prove especially relevant.  I often hear that people feel they don’t have time or patience to actually read through a whole newspaper every morning, so this is a free, easy and efficient way to stay informed about the developments most likely to affect your enterprise.

#3 – INC., Entrepreneur and Fast Company (Online Entrepreneurship Magazines)

For those eager to read more about what’s going on in the entrepreneurial landscape, I recommend carving out some time each week to peruse the articles and blog entries offered up by entrepreneurship periodicals such as Inc., Entrepreneur and Fast Company (just to name a few of the more helpful ones).  Much like the SBA, INC.’s website in particular contains a wealth of tips and information on how to start and manage a business. 

Bear with me on this one.  I admit I was highly skeptical of personality tests when I first started business school, likening them to the contrived, self-fulfilling prophecies found in horoscopes (sorry, astrology fans).  I quickly realized, however, that personality tests like Myers-Briggs actually offered some meaningful insights into my work style, needs and habits.  This quiz is free and only takes a few minutes.  Once you know your type, you can search the web for more analysis and interpretations – check out Personality Page.  For any business owner with employees, I highly recommend asking your team to take the quiz as well so you can learn more about their orientation as professionals, and how their types interact with each other, as well as your own.  These insights can be incredibly helpful in team-building, dealing with motivation and productivity issues, and managing interpersonal conflicts.  

I’m cheating a bit here, because all the other entries in this list so far have been 100% free.  But for only $26 on Amazon ($19 for the Kindle version), this massively informative reference guide is one of the best investments you can make.  As the jacket describes, “small business owners are regularly confronted by a bewildering array of legal questions and problems” – so why not save yourself a ton of time, grief and needless legal fees by keeping this user-friendly overview close at hand?  This book was first recommended by one of my business school mentors, Dave Epstein, and has now become an essential resource for my clients.    

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Welcome to Inclusiva's Little Big Business Blog!

Meet Inclusiva and the LBBB

I’m proud to announce the launch of Inclusiva Strategies.  Inclusiva is a holistic business coaching practice aimed at creative small business owners and artists who want to transform their craft into a viable and meaningful enterprise. 

This is a new type of business coaching firm that helps creative business owners, artists and other aspiring entrepreneurs grow or launch their venture based on clearly defined values and goals.  Rather than limiting or diluting their craft, the structure and strategic planning that comes from the coaching process actually frees them to be more creative and innovative.

The Little Big Business Blog (LBBB) will be the primary sounding board for Inclusiva.  It will be a place I can share resources, insights, tips, news, and musings about the world of creative small businesses and startups.  
Why Business Coaching
My interest in business coaching started when I volunteered as a business advisor for a wonderful organizational in Oakland called Centro Community Partners, which provides business training to low-income entrepreneurs. Inclusiva, meanwhile, is designed to empower creative professionals like artists, cooks, musicians, designers, engineers and others with the tools they need to make the craft they love a rewarding business endeavor. 

I care deeply about and believe in this work.  It draws upon many of my strengths and allows me to apply my interdisciplinary education.  I believe Inclusiva will make a difference not only in the lives of my clients, their families and employees, but also more broadly, by helping to bring a wide variety of new products, services and jobs into the economy.  I hope it will serve as a model for a new type of business coaching that can be make an impact throughout the Bay Area and beyond. 

To learn more or to get in touch, please view the Inclusiva website here, and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 

-Jacob Gelfand