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|Thursday, January 12, 2012|
Last fall I wrote a cover story for Oregon Business about the dearth of women serving on the boards of public companies. To compile the data, I printed out a list of Oregon’s 46 public companies, then counted the number of female directors on each company’s board. The tallying went something like this: “zero, zero, zero, one, zero, zero, two, zero, zero…”
The final count showed women fill only 39 of the 340 board seats on Oregon’s 46 publicly traded companies. Almost half of the companies had no women on their boards at all.
I thought about that story—and the sameness and sparseness of the numbers — while chatting the other day with Linda Weston, executive director of the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. As Weston described the region’s increasingly vibrant startup scene, I was struck by what seemed to be a significant number of women serving on the frontlines of the city and state's entrepreneurial surge.
Oregon has a long history of women starting small businesses. But those enterprises have typically stayed small and revolved around retail—aka the “pink ghetto.” What’s new is women are forming “highly scalable businesses” and that a growing number are in the tech sectors, Weston says. “It’s a dramatic change."
A burgeoning population of women engineers and MBAs is helping diversify the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Perhaps OEN can also take some of the credit. In 2002, the nonprofit started the Women’s Investment Network, a program aimed at educating women about angel investing. That group, whose first investment was Portland Monthly Magazine, became so successful that it folded in 2010 and became part of the Portland Angel Network, a group of men and women who hear presentations from early-stage entrepreneurial companies.
A pioneering female entrepreneur herself, Weston — who was recruited in 1996 to start the now-defunct Portland Power women's basketball team — also noted that women who become active angel investors often become board members on those companies as well. It's a virtuous cycle. As I wrote in my women and corporate boards story, companies with a critical mass of female board members tend to hire more female corporate officers than companies with few or no women directors.
This is not to overstate the number of women in Oregon's startup sector, which is still very much male-dominated. And even as local business incubators and accelerators proliferate, we've yet to birth anything like Women Innovate Mobile, a New York-based startup accelerator and mentorship-driven program designed for women-founded companies in mobile technology. That program is currently accepting its first round of applications, with interest coming from dozens of states and several foreign countries, including China, says co-founder Deborah Jackson.
Back in Oregon, I have decided to inject what is so far an anecdotal project with a bit of scientific credibility — and have thus embarked on another data gathering exercise, this time compiling a list of female entrepreneurs and investors who are pushing the start-up scene forward. The following is by no means definitive, so please pass on names of other notable women driving 21st century entrepreneurship.
Oregon's startup women:
UPDATE, 11:44 a.m. on 1/12: I am starting another list of women identified after the blog published.
1. Teena Jan, co-founder Gamma Point LLC, a mobile app development company specializing in creating navigation apps.
2. Kristina Gorriaran, president SprigHealth, an online marketplace where consumers can find and book appointments with healthcare providers.
3. James Keller, co-founder, Small Society, develops mobile apps for large brands. Acquired in early January by Walmart Labs.
4. Kristine Akins, CEO BikeTrak, GPS powered security for bicycles.
5. Cindy Cooper, Founder Social Innovation Incubator, Co-founder and Managing Director, Impact Entrepreneurs, Portland State University School of Business.
6. Melissa Appleyard, oversees, Lab2Market, a PSU workshop providing startup training from venture capital firm, DFJ Frontier.
Linda Baker is the managing editor of Oregon Business.
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