Katherine Richardson, female entrepreneur, startup employee, and member of the EC, gives her thoughts on the adventure of being a "buspreneur" and the role women play in startups.
My adventure on the Startup Bus was just that: an adventure. There was a sense of boldness I felt jumping on board a bus full of strangers, traveling through the southeast, and in 72 hours developing and launching a tech product ready for demo. I assumed before meeting the group that it would be male-dominated, and that didn’t bother me much. Of the 20 “buspreneurs” on the trip, there were five women, not including two women who served in mentor-type positions. Having women as mentors and peers on the trip was reassuring and, quite honestly, heightened my self-confidence.
I was on a team with three male developers. Certain topics of conversation were difficult to engage in--video games, programming languages, etc. I’d like to say that this is attributed more to differences in interests and areas of expertise, rather than explicitly male-female differences. I took it as an opportunity to learn from them and help bridge the gap between “tech-speak” and business application.
If women do not participate, it’s a missed opportunity. What one gets out of these offerings is the greatest value. When you step out of your comfort zone, you open yourself to learn and connect with others. We connected with innovative individuals from all over the continent, many of whom became lifelong friends in just 72 hours (it’s amazing, the bonding that can happen in that amount of time). We were introduced to the entrepreneurial communities in seven different cities. We learned new methods of approaching old problems, simply by sharing our challenges with a different audience. We were put through the wringer with mentors challenging our business models and critiquing our pitches. That is the kind of stuff that toughens our skin, but more importantly it helps us identify and embrace our own values.
Diverse teams are directly related to innovation, in my opinion, so its important to have a female point of view. It’s absolutely important for women to be contributors and leaders in a startup setting: we tend to have a keen intuition when navigating group dynamics and responding to adversity. We can address gaps in communication. We generally don’t let egos get in the way of good ideas and we’re quick to listen and think before acting. We can own at our areas of expertise whether we’re hustlers, developers, designers, or anything in between. It’s a combination of these skillsets that make women an obvious fit to lead in the entrepreneurial space.
As far as the low participation of women, I’d be lying if I said it’s not a little intimidating to be a woman in the male-dominated world of entrepreneurship. The people you work with and meet at networking events are men, more often than not. A woman can feel out of place or out of her comfort zone in those scenarios. That being said, it makes a profound difference to see women leading in the space. I think of women in our community like Nancy VanReece, Monica Selby, Kate O’Neill, Kelley Boothe, and so many others who are dominating and it helps me picture myself doing the same.