Top tips for female start-up founders from accelerateHER CEO


eing a female start-up founder is far from easy. From pitching for investment in front of all-male VCs to facing sometimes-unconscious bias, female entrepreneurs have to overcome additional obstacles to navigate their way to success.

Born from chair Brent Hoberman‘s Founders Forum network in 2016, AccelerateHer is a global events series bringing together entrepreneurs, CEOs and global leaders. It aims to showcase rising female business and tech leaders, and to drive societal change through technology.

Last week accelerateHer was a stakeholder at the capital’s eighth London Tech Week, where speakers and attendees included founders of some of the UK’s biggest technology companies, ministers and investors – and the next generation of London-based start-ups vying for attention.

The network hosted a panel with former First Lady and two-time presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and top female UK business and tech leaders, including Microsoft UK CEO, Clare Barclay. All gave their advice to female entrepreneurs based on decades of experience as often lone female voices in the room.

The Standard caught up with the accelerateHER’s interim CEO Elka Goldstein, who recently moved to London after working at start-ups in Silicon Valley and in US comms for China-HQd drone-maker, DJI, to get her top tips

1. The space is not always welcoming, so actively try to find mentors to introduce you to the “movers and shakers” – don’t rely only on events and coffees

“Sometimes that community [start-up investors, the tech world] is not as welcoming as we would like to say it is. I think there are incredible men and women who will help you along the way, but you need to reach out and find them. It’s not that easy. It’s not just a regular coffee chat or a networking event, or a look at your college alumni group – it’s actively asking people to introduce you around,” Goldstein said.

The CEO said this is especially important for those who are founding a start-up without having attended elite universities or other centres offering contacts.

She said: “If you come from a non-traditional background economically or even just with your education, [it is about] finding out who the movers and shakers are and asking people to get you the invite, or to figuring out how to get into the room or at the table.”

2. Grab any opportunity for advantage you can find – don’t be afraid of being pigeonholed

“Early in my career I tried not to do women-focused things because I was so worried that it would keep isolating me,” Goldstein said. “I worried about showing people that I was a working mom. I was nervous about telling people I had kids because I wasn’t the 28-year-old who was going to stay here until midnight coding. Once I kicked that dumb idea out of my head, I realised these other women are exactly the type of people are going to help me.

“I think if we can open our eyes and not be afraid to be pigeonholed as any one thing, the fear of tokenism, or of just being a ‘box checker’ for them [a company or investor] – who cares? Use it to your advantage.

“Get your foot in that door, and then get 10 more people who check that box in there right alongside of you.”

3. Seek out female investors

Goldstein is inspired by the explosion in femtech start-ups and femtech-focused VC investment in recent years.

She urged start-up founders to do their research and try to find the tech investors focused on backing female-led companies, or start-ups addressing long-ignored female health issues.

“Femtech is a hard thing to pitch to a room full of male investors,” Goldstein said. “Start-ups are now finding female-focused investors, and investors just focused on sextech and femtech. It’s just a beautiful, circular win for all of us over the past few years.”

To read Hillary Clinton’s tips for female entrepreneurs click here

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