How NYC is the place to be for female entrepreneurs
ew York City ranked first overall in a Dell index among 50 cities across the world last year, for its ability to attract and support women entrepreneurs. What exactly is it doing right? We take a closer look.
No other city in the world has more female-founded firms than New York, the city’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development, Alicia Glen, told Startup Guide. A quarter of NYC’s tech founders are women, and tech is the city’s quickest growing sector.
America’s largest city is also home to over 410,000 women-owned businesses, which is more than double than in any other US city. Alicia says this is partly due to NYC taking substantive steps to ensure that its startup scene is as open and accessible as possible - in particular to women.
Committed to diversity and openness, the Big Apple has already taken action against pay discrimination, been awarded $1 billion in city contracts to minority and women business enterprises and made direct investments in female-founded firms through programs like WENYC.
Alicia adds that with the launch of women.nyc this year, the portal and resource model is already being replicated by cities across the country.
To illustrate how exactly NYC is the place to be for innovative, creative, business-minded women, here’s a look at a startup, program, VC firm and founder based in the Big Apple. From fighting for more women in STEM roles to investing in female-founded companies, all of them are addressing the issue of diversity in entrepreneurship.
The financial services startup that focuses on women
Founded on the belief that women have been failed by the financial services sector, Ellevest claims to be “a new kind of financial advisor.”
Prior to launching, the startup gathered statistics which showed that women have been highly dissatisfied with financial services and wealth management. According to a 2013 study by AdviceIQ, about 86 percent of financial advisors are male.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data moreover shows that women make less money, Payscale found that their salaries peak earlier, and the US Census data show that they live longer than men do. Thus, the National Institute on Retirement Security found that women retire with only two-thirds of the wealth. That’s the investing gap: women are simply not investing as much as men.
“This is an industry that does a really good job for men and as a result, has not done a good job for women,” cofounder and president at Ellevest, Charlie Kroll, told Startup Guide. That’s where Ellevest comes in, as it aims to bridge the gap with wealth-management and financial-service tools made by women for women.
Ellevest completed more than two hundred hours of interviews with women, ran more than seven thousand investment simulations and built a truly diverse team: 70 percent women, 40 percent people of colour and 50 percent of women in tech roles.
By offering services such as financial planning and career coaching, Ellevest strives to put women in the driving seat when it comes to managing their financial futures.
A program which supports females working in STEM sectors
New York is home to programs that seek to address gender inequalities, not just in the city alone, but in the world. The She Innovates Global Program is an example of one of them; women from any background and level of experience are welcome to participate.
The program aims to support females employed in STEM (science, tech, engineering and mathematics) industries by providing access to development tools, mentoring programs, and a series of events and meetups where women can acquire practical know-how and gain professional support.
Building up local communities of women is another one of the program's main goals. The She Innovates app, for example, provides a worldwide platform for women at varying stages of their career to interact with each other. The app aims to encourage the sharing of stories and expertise between experienced entrepreneurs and newbies.
Other ways in which the program helps women innovators is through a She Innovates Award that offers grant funding for women-led solutions that address the specific needs of women and girls.
The She Innovates Global Program also offers a mentoring program that connects seasoned professionals with young innovators who are looking for advice in a particular industry. Women with more professional experience are also encouraged to sign up to become a mentor to help their skills and abilities.
The VC firm that’s investing in female-founded companies
One of the non-negotiables at NYC-based VC firm BBG Ventures is that, when it comes to the company they’re investing in, at least one of the cofounders must be a woman.
The early-stage fund believes that a lack of access to capital is one factor that continues to hold women back. Despite making up half of the US population, women represent just 5 percent of startup founders and 7 percent of partners at top VC firms. But this doesn’t mean women simply aren’t cut out to be entrepreneurs, according to BBG Ventures.
As CEO of Gilt.com, a fashion and lifestyle website, Susan Lyne saw this firsthand. “I met a lot of young women who were starting companies, and they all had a similar experience raising money,” Susan, now president and founding partner of BBG Ventures, told Startup Guide.
“The partners around the table were all men, so before they could pitch their business, they had to explain how women think about X, or how women make purchase decisions,” Susan says. Susan started BBG Ventures to bridge the gap and, in the process, invest in some of the premiere companies reshaping industries from media to consumer goods and technology.
Since September 2014, BBG has made fifty-five investments across two funds, which, according to partner Nisha Dua, makes it the largest portfolio of female founders in the country. “We think that having a woman on the founding team is a unique competitive advantage,” Nisha says.
“New York City is a great place for female founders,” Lyne says. “It’s a much more heterogeneous business environment than Silicon Valley, the VC ecosystem is younger and more fluid, and there’s a growing community of women who want to see you succeed.”
A founder who’s committed to making New York the next great tech hub
Though there are surely a countless number of women in the Big Apple innovating new things and shaking up the tech sector, here’s the story of one of them, Liz Wessel, who just so happened to be mentioned in Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30 in Enterprise Technology” list two years ago.
Liz, a serial entrepreneur, told Startup Guide that her favourite thing about working in NYC is its tech scene. She explains that while it’s not as big as San Francisco’s, everyone is supportive of one another in New York – no matter what sector you’re in, how much you’ve raised, what you look like or how old you are.
Born and raised in New York City, Liz founded her most recent venture, WayUp, almost straight out of college at the age of 24. Now 27, Liz has not only been acknowledged by Forbes; she’s also appeared on lists of the top one hundred entrepreneurs in “Silicon Alley” as well as Silicon Valley.
During her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Liz witnessed first-hand how difficult it was for college students to search for jobs and get recruited by employers. It was frustration with this process that ultimately led to her founding WayUp, which is a platform that helps graduates find jobs and employers find suitable applicants.
After graduation, Liz began working at Google. It was there that she saw how hard it is to recruit quality employees amidst a high volume of graduates. Armed with her love of entrepreneurship and various experiences in small businesses, she then chose to leave her job and launch her own company.
In the past four years, WayUp has grown quickly and now employs about 65 employees. The company also has some 4.5 million users. But this was not without its challenges, Liz says, explaining that while her company has hired many incredible people, there were also mistakes with hiring.
Liz aims to continue to help as many people as possible find jobs that they enjoy, and says that the company will stay committed to helping others meet their future - both in the US and hopefully one day in the world.
You can read more about Ellevest, the She Innovates Global Program, BBG Ventures, Liz Wessel and what you need to know about launching a business in NYC in our Startup Guide New York book, available to be purchased online here.
Main Photo: Anna Andersen / Startup Guide
*This article was originally published on October 17th, 2018 and updated on January 15th, 2019.