Are Women Entrepreneurs Better Off Than A Year Ago?

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

During yesterday’s second annual NMTC-WIT Luncheon, a reporter in the audience asked the panelists if things were getting any better for women.

In an article published this year in ForbesGeri Stengel predicted that 2014 would be the breakout year for women entrepreneurs. “While the number is still small —  nearly 20% of angels in 2012 invested in women-led businesses — the percentage grew more than 40% from the previous year, according to the Center of Venture Research, which studies early-stage equity financing for high-growth ventures. Even venture capitalists have increased their support of women-led companies. It’s still paltry, but the percentage of VC deals going to women-led businesses was 13% in the first half of 2013. That’s nearly a 20% jump over 2012, according to Pitchbook, a venture-capital research firm.” Encouraging statistics that point to better opportunities ahead. But the real question is, as individuals, do we see new possibilities or more of the same status quo?

The answers from the luncheon’s diverse panel of men and women, including our own COO at APPCityLife, varied from some panelists seeing no change at all to a few answers that, yes, things have changed. As a female CEO, I am well aware of New York Time‘s annual report that of the top 200 highest paid chief executive officers, only two are women. I’ve also seen first-hand at least one venture capital door close because of gender. I could easily see the glass as 87% to 95% empty (the percentage of venture capital currently funneled into male-founded companies in the US).

I choose to see it differently. In my experience over the past year, I’ve seen both significant and subtle changes that make me believe there is more respect, opportunities, and equality for women founders than ever before. Despite a few fairly disheartening experiences with investors, I’ve also found passionate support from others. Our company raised almost $500,000 in angel and family fund investments over the past twelve months, and we’ve been selected as one of only ten New Mexico companies invited to pitch for a larger round of investment at the upcoming Deal Stream Summit. Because of our focus on solving problems in the civic space, I’ve had the incredible privilege of being invited to meet with leaders from around the globe and participate in discussions about civic innovation. And I have yet to find an instance where my gender created any barrier of entry into any office when I’ve reached out to civic leaders – even in some of the biggest urban centers in the US.

But more than anything else, the topics of discussion at the luncheon were a strong indicator to me of just how far we’ve come as a community in New Mexico. Last year’s luncheon opened with the very uncomfortable topic of the jerk tech apps pitched from the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt. Almost the entire hour of conversation last year was focused on the unfairness, the bias, and the simmering anger of those who’d been passed over, ignored, and not taken seriously simply because of their gender. This year’s luncheon definitely covered some of the same challenges – the funding disadvantage, the challenge at being taken seriously – but what inspired me most was the questions that had to do with the real meat of running a business. Those questions were new. Topics ranged from the value of having Non Disclosure Agreements and Employment Contracts to implementing sales channels for international businesses. Instead of simply focusing on the problems women face, the panelists were able to share valuable insight and knowledge that were real takeaways for the rest of the crowd.

Perhaps the only reason we were able to focus on questions about business and expertise this year is because we did address the more uncomfortable topics in the past year. But I, for one, am heartened by the notion that as women, perhaps we’ve come to the place were the conversation can begin to change from how do we let women in at all to how do we help more women grow international, high growth companies.

It’s certainly what I and my cofounders have set out to do, and I am inspired by the growing support and opportunities making that more and more possible.

This was originally published on Huffington Post.

Resisting the Seduction of Inadequacy

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For a week now, I have fretted over an answer I gave recently during a taped interview for our local PBS television station. I was invited to join a roundtable discussion that would air during Women’s History Month (March), and the other women invited carried impressive resumes and careers; all seemed so much more eloquent, poised and lovely than me. When I was asked whether what I was doing now was something I had always dreamed of doing, I answered honestly. And ever since, I’ve been kicking myself for not being more eloquent, for not having a better answer, for not saying something that might inspire a new generation of girls to pursue tech.

I don’t know. Maybe my answer could have been better; it probably could have been more poised. In fact, I’m sure of that.

But after listening to an amazing speech by the lovely actress Lupita Nyong’o (shared in its entirety at the end of this post), I am reminded that even at my age, I am still doing exactly what she describes – giving in to the seduction of inadequacy. There is great temptation in focusing on our inadequacies, in tearing ourselves apart over the things we want to change about ourselves. We can’t possibly challenge ourselves to move forward, to face our fears, to try even scarier things if we can convince ourselves that we couldn’t even handle the challenges we’ve already faced. We can fall into complacency with the “truth” that we tried but just weren’t good enough, and then who can blame us for not changing the world if we can’t even change one little thing about ourselves?

NMTCWIT Honorees Roundtable Interview on KNME PBS.

NMTCWIT Honorees Roundtable Interview on KNME PBS.

Who knows – maybe I could have found a more polished answer, but the truth still has value in its unvarnished form. The truth is that I never once dreamed of living the life I am. I never thought it was possible. I wanted to be a mom. It is all I ever wanted, and I embraced motherhood wholeheartedly. I have absolutely no regrets for the time I spent raising my children. It was time well spent. So, no, this new journey I’m on is not one I dreamed of. I didn’t think girls who weren’t really smart (I didn’t think I was), who couldn’t do math in my head (unless it’s calculating the discount on a dress I want to buy, I still can’t), and who didn’t get started on a career until their forties – I never, ever thought my journey was even possible for a girl like me.

That does not mean I am not pursuing passionately and whole-heartedly this new journey. I’ve stretched myself so far since I launched APPCityLife in 2009 that I could give Gumby a run for his money. I’ve learned (and learned and learned some more) every time I find something else I need to understand to meet a new challenge or obstacle. There are still times I wake up at 3 AM and wonder what kind of a crazy person launches out into a new industry with the goal of changing the way cities communicate with the people who live there, but then I get up and go look in the mirror to affirm that this is the kind of crazy person who does that – who actually does that. We have already started to change the way cities interact with the people who live there, and I couldn’t be more excited for the future of our team at APPCityLife.

So when you listen to my answer on the upcoming PBS interview with a few of the New Mexico Technology Council’s Women In Tech 2014 honorees, I may not be the most polished. But I’m ok with that. I was invited to have a seat at the table with some pretty amazing women, and for a girl who thought this kind of opportunity could never come in her lifetime – who still has to resist the seduction of inadequacy, that’s enough for me.

Note: the PBS In Focus interview will air on KNME at 7 PM MST, March 6, 2014. View Details and link for online video