November 23, 2015

Women Building the Tech Ecosystem: Insights From 2XinTech: Female Founders Conference

This year, more and more technology industry conferences have focused on startup experiences and perspectives of women entrepreneurs, so we were thrilled to be a part of Grand Central Tech’s first 2XinTech Female Founders Conference, an event that brought together the leading female minds of the tech world. Several executives from Verizon and Verizon Ventures spoke at the event, including Michelle McCarthy, a Director with Verizon Ventures who led a workshop and Judy Spitz, Verizon’s SVP of IT Strategy & Planning, who gave a keynote address. Susan Lyne and Kara Swisher kicked it all off with a great talk about today’s VC climate.

From the outset, the event generated a lot of interest in the startup and venture capital communities. Grand Central Tech (GCT) received nearly 1,000 applications to attend, and the event was standing room only as more than 350 top women in tech and 22 female VCs from across the country gathered in NYC. The event’s high attendance rate is indicative of the huge impact that technology companies started, led, and run by women have on the tech industry, the economy, and consumerism. Judy summed up the importance of this perfectly in her keynote, discussing the benefits of having more women in tech:

Better products: Product development teams and companies with greater diversity are more successful.

Alleviates critical skills shortages: It’s no secret that the tech industry is facing a massive skills shortage globally. With women making up half the available talent pool, more women are earning tech degrees and following through to start or lead tech companies, which is helping to close the tech skills gap.  

Increased opportunity: For female founders and employees alike, tech offers unparalleled opportunity. With the hottest companies in the world today developing technology and offering some of the best paying jobs, women can’t afford to miss out on this opportunity.

According to Judy, the key to opening up roles for women in technology is having more female leaders - the CTOs, the CEOs, the corporate boards - these are today’s frontiers for women. 2XinTech brought these women entrepreneurs, founders and VCs together to share experiences, discuss issues and provide guidance to the next generation of female founders.

The event covered a broad range of themes, from business-related topics like building company growth, securing funding and achieving user growth and acquisition, to specific themes like technology’s impact on the future of women’s health. One recurring topic throughout the day was the importance of building a team. With employment numbers at record highs—especially in tech—attracting and retaining employees is a challenge for all CEOs, but a great opportunity for female founders to earn coveted tech positions. Other highlights and key takeaways from the day included:

The importance of connectedness: Marleen Vogelaar, one of the cofounders of Shapeways and current CEO of Ziel, talked about making sure employees have an important and meaningful work experience. A similar sentiment was echoed by Tammy Han (First Round Capital), Kathryn Minshew (TheMuse), and Milena Berry (PowerToFly) in the “Hiring the Best” panel, moderated by Sara Holoubek (Luminary Labs). As anyone who has founded or worked at a startup will agree, tech startups are a crazy ride and people want to know that they are experiencing it together. From being transparent about budgets, expenses and new spending to sharing updates on fundraising and the company’s future vision, panelists advised founders to communicate important information with their teams. 

Building a balanced team: According to Alexis Maybank, founding CEO of Gilt, great execution comes from building a great team. For Maybank, a team poised to succeed should have a diverse set of skills, experience and values. She also advised that, to scale at the right pace, founders need to have a well-defined culture in place, taking different values from across the organization and giving shared ownership to the entire team to pass these values along.

Advisors can help fill knowledge gaps and challenge founders: Throughout the day, the conversation around ‘team’ extended beyond finding and retaining employees to attracting key advisors. While reflecting on her experience building Zirtual, Maren Kate Donovan advised founders to focus on adding advisors and employees that augment and supplement the core team’s expertise. If you’re not in finance, for example, hire a financial expert. She also asserted that founders need to hire people that will challenge them, people they trust and people who will be loyal. She advised startups to assemble a full Board of Directors who not only have sector experience, but can also call founders to task and mentor through challenges.

For most startup founders, the list of important advisors will include venture capital investors. In a panel on “Fundraising for Pros,” moderated by AppNexus General Counsel Nithya Das, panelists Angela Ceresnie (Orchard Platform), Alexandra Wilson (Glamsquad), Alisa Volkman (Babble), and Tania Yuki (Shareablee) talked at length about the critical role that investors play on a founder’s team. According to the panel, VCs can be an excellent sounding board for commercialization, marketing, product development and sales problems. They stressed that finding the right VC is important, but it’s even more important to be thoughtful about whom you approach for funding – are you sure they are passionate about the space? Do they bring different expertise to the table? They also stressed the importance of bringing on smart money—VCs that can add strategic value, especially as a company grows.

Whether it’s through investment or mentorship, Verizon Ventures is committed to supporting the startup community and tech entrepreneurs. GCT’s 2XinTech Female Founders Conference was an excellent opportunity for our team to share our experiences and connect with some truly inspiring entrepreneurs. And this event is just the beginning — GCT is continuing to work with conference attendees through regular meetup events in New York, and as a corporate partner, we’ll be working alongside the GCT team to provide connections and mentorship to support these promising women entrepreneurs.

To learn more about Verizon Ventures’ partnership with Grand Central Tech, click here


Related posts from Verizon Ventures: 

2015 Powerful Answers Award Finalists: Creating Solutions

How LAUNCH is Helping Launch Startups

Saying Hello to Innovation at Verizon Ventures' Startup Day  


Tags: Verizon Ventures , Andrew Der , Female Founders , Accelerators