Women Founders: Progress Made, But More Needed
By Mark Carter
Tech-based entrepreneurship is experiencing a golden age in Arkansas.
Leaders in the startup ecosystem are excited about the resources and opportunities -- everything from accelerators to maker spaces -- now readily available to tech-influenced entrepreneurs in Arkansas.
But they acknowledge that the state has a little catching up to do in terms of recruiting women to the sector. Of course, it's an issue everywhere.
We caught up with two prominent central Arkansas women founders for their thoughts on access to the tech startup community.
Emily Reeves is the director of digital innovation at Stone Ward in Little Rock, a serial entrepreneur and even an INOV8 contributor. Alese Stroud is owner of Stroud Consulting and an Arkansas Venture Center champion where she organizes womens founder meetups.
I continue to be concerned about the imbalance of representation for women in the tech entrepreneurship community in Arkansas.
Rarely do I see an equal number of women in the room. Unfortunately that is true whether looking at events like Startup Weekend, STEM classes at our local institutions of learning or in local corporate boardrooms.
The Women Founders Meetup group, sponsored by the Arkansas Venture Center, launched last November with the intent of providing support to women involved in launching their own ventures. Membership has grown quickly, reaching 82 people as of last count. Our membership includes several women technical entrepreneure.
Bridget Fennell Ferris, serial entrepreneur and a veteran of Little Rock's uber banking tech startup, Systematics, is currently consulting on process improvement and market definition while she does the pre-launch work on her new startup concept. Abby Sims, full stack developer and owner of idestini dev studio, is also a member.
When I go to startup meet-ups and events in Arkansas, the men still outnumber the women. However, in just the past 12 months I have seen more and more women showing up. I think we have come a long way in a short period of time by just getting a few women involved to help encourage the masses to attend.
And when they attend, they add quality content to the conversation. I hope to continue to see the attendance grow more balanced in gender.
I saw a tweet come through earlier this week from an attendee at the Noble Institute happening in Fort Smith right now that said the girls outnumbered the boys attending. I believe this shows that it is just a matter of making the opportunities known and those interested will attend, be they male or female. Especially among a younger audience.
In general, our state needs more technical talent -- male or female -- to build the business ideas and continue to see them grow. Our current talent tends to skew male, so I think we need to actively recruit women into the space to fill the needs.
Several IA client firms have female founders or include them: Btiques, Movista, HRM, Boston Mountain Biotech, BiologicsMD, Red Clay, Aurora Digital Signage, just to name a few.
So, progress. But more to do. Stay tuned.