By Geri Stengel (Founder, Ventureneer)
Jorge Calderon was a venture capitalist who wanted to invest where others weren’t. He found his under-served market: women- and minority-owned businesses.
Only problem was, he couldn’t find entrepreneurs in that niche. He was sure they were there; he just couldn’t find them. So four years ago, he started Springworks to show women and minority innovators how to catch the eye of venture capitalists.
What he’s really doing is rebuilding the eco-system of women- and minority-owned businesses to match that of men. For him that means helping entrepreneurs become visible to VCs, build networks, and structure their companies.
Women need to recognize the importance of supporting each other. When women at a conference were given an opportunity to meet women mentors, few showed up. “Even when you give them a carrot, they’re not mentally there,” Calderon says. “They aren’t looking for mentors.”
Yet mentors can give you connections, steer you in new or better directions, and save you from making costly mistakes.
Calderon wants women to find ways to talk to each other and to develop “generational links” through which older women mentor younger women. An important component of Springworks programs is building networks among up-and-coming entrepreneurs on college campuses.
Springworks has started WE Generation for women interested in entrepreneurship. Through the program, women work together to learn, support, and inspire each other. Each chapter has peer-to-peer and student-to-professional activities. And as part of changing the way women think about networking and mentoring, each “generation” has to reach down to the next. Grad students help undergrads; undergrads help high school students.
Or, as Sheila Lirio Marcelo, CEO of Care.com says, “We must lift as we climb, bring others along with us and collect talented people as we rise.”
Men need to be more inclusive. When men want to network, they do guy things, whether it’s playing a round of golf or gathering in the corporate box at the ball game. Lots of deals done in those informal settings and, while many women do like golf and sports, many don’t.
“Men don’t even think about how to be inclusive,” Calderon says. “That is where the disconnect is.”
His observation is echoed by high-growth women entrepreneurs, such as Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN Advisor on government contracting, and a woman who likes to talk sports. But, she noted, networking events and conferences often end with a round of golf.
“Why always golf?” she asks. “Why not wine tasting or something everyone can enjoy?” And during which everyone can schmooze and make deals.
“We need to find commonalities,” Calderon says. “ It’s not that men are trying to offend; it’s a lack of creativity.”
Redesign business. What drives Calderon nuts is that women start firms that follow the same old businesses model when they could be starting businesses that are more women-friendly. You can retain and grow talent by being flexible — flexible about taking a year off for family without losing a rung on the career ladder; flexible in working hours; flexible about telecommuting. Not doing so means that women with talent and in whom you’ve invested a lot feel forced to choose between work and family.
Rosalie Mandel, principal of the alternative investments accounting firm Rothstein Kass, has changed the culture of her company. “Our firm had the vision to see the benefits of flexible scheduling – and it’s never said no. We’ve had an official flex policy since 1999,” she said in an article for The Glass Hammer.
“Allow people to go in and out and still be efficient,” Calderon says. “Showcase the ones who are successful. If you have that model, you’ll be able to attract and retain talent.” Not just female talent. Male talent as well. Calderon himself wouldn’t mind more time with his kids.
Mandel says that today’s female professionals — be they accountants or CEOs — can make sure that the next generation of female professionals stays in the work force by pushing for cultural changes, as she did.
For more articles about high-growth women entrepreneurs, visit Guiding the Way for Ambitious Women Entrepreneurs, Ventureneer’s curated source for information women entrepreneurs can use to power-up their businesses.
This post was originally posted at Forbes.
Photo credit: Feminist Hulk.
About the guest blogger: Geri Stengel is Founder of Ventureneer, providing knowledge and resources for values driven businesses. She is a Kauffman FastTrac GrowthVenture facilitator, former adjunct professor of entrepreneurship, and past board member of the NYC Chapter of the National Association of Business Women Owners, she understands the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face when growing their beyond $1 million. Follow She blogs regularly at Vistas. Follow her on Twitter at @ventureneer.