Katie Szczepaniak Rice: Watch New Mexico Rise

Katie Szczepaniak Rice

 

The first time I met Katie Szczepaniak Rice, I was more than a little intimidated. She is trained as an engineer – a graduate of MIT with an MBA from the University of Chicago, no less – and is head of the New Mexico office of one of the largest venture capital firms with a presence in New Mexico. It didn’t take long for me to compare my own background with hers and come to the conclusion that we were not at all on equal footing. I’m pretty sure I stammered through much of our first meeting when I met with her to talk about our tech company.  It didn’t take long, however, to discover that along with her incredible drive and accomplishments, Katie is also one of the most approachable women leaders within our community.

Katie’s background is nothing short of inspirational. She is a first-generation immigrant, arriving in the United States as a young girl who had already spent time moving from one country to the next as her family made their way to their eventual home in America. She spoke no English when she showed up for her first day of third grade and credits one of the first girls she met at her new school for helping ease her assimilation into a new culture. Katie says she has remained close with this childhood friend and that their families sometimes vacation together all these years later.

After graduating from MIT, Katie worked in the field as an engineer in an industry which was predominantly male. She not only held her own but quickly rose to the challenge. She then transitioned from engineering to management consulting and gained early experience which allowed her to eventually shift her career to assessing high tech firms for a venture capital firm. In 2004, she jumped at a career opportunity to move to New Mexico and work for a startup, and in 2005, she started her career in venture capital.

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Katie Rice and Lisa Abeyta talking about Women in Tech and Investing on the Morning Brew with Larry Ahrens.

As part of the investment community, she is an industry that is even more male-dominated than her first career. In fact, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in September of 2014 that the number of women partners in Venture Capital Firms actually dropped to a paltry 6% nationally, down from 10% in 1999. Katie brings a rare and refreshing perspective to the investment community in New Mexico – as well as serving as an inspiring role model to other women following in her footsteps. In addition to her role as a venture capitalist, she also serves as president of the Coronado Ventures Forum and as a board member for ABQid, an Albuquerque-based incubator focused on high-growth early startups. One of the initiatives she’s working on ABQid is a Ski Lift Pitch Contest in an effort to showcase the beauty of New Mexico, encourage young entrepreneurs to dream big and connect startup founders with investors and industry leaders in an environment conducive to making a lasting connection.

Despite the demands of her busy life, she still manages to volunteer her time mentoring and advising several tech startup founders within the community. It is not uncommon to receive an email or phone call from her when she is in search of a solution or connection for one of the founders she is mentoring. And while the capital she has helped invest into New Mexico through her venture firm is deeply needed, the less noticeable, but highly valuable, contribution she makes on a regular basis is that of her own time and knowledge to help others become successful – whether they are a company she has invested in or not.

Beyond this more public side of her career, Katie is also a devoted mother to two young toddlers as well as an outdoor enthusiast who loves taking advantage of New Mexico’s phenomenal access to the outdoors. An avid skier and hiker, she also enjoys running frequently in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. She’s lived, worked and traveled all over the world but says she found her true home right here in New Mexico.

“After living in ten different cities,” Katie says, “I will proudly tell you that there’s no place I’d rather live than Albuquerque.” She adds that her passion about the expansion of the entrepreneurial ecosystem within her adopted home is not only driven by the desire to give promising young people a reason to stay and be successful here in New Mexico but because she wants those opportunities available someday for her own children.

I have to admit that there are still moments when I am completely blown away by Katie’s brilliant mind, but as I’ve grown to know her better, it is her curiosity and visible joy when learning something new as well as her generosity and passion for helping others that has caused me to grow to deeply respect her. Katie is doing more than her part to help watch New Mexico rise.

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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.

Why Successful Women Should Stop Hiding Their Emotions

Kym Hampton

Last year, at the National Girlfriends Networking Day main event hosted by New York Times in New York City, WNBA Star, Plus-Size Model and Actress Kym Hampton displayed some very raw emotion as she shared some of the downright cruel and horrifying experiences she faced during the early days of her career, both as a basketball star and as a plus-size model. She was part of a panel of highly successful, influential women including Loretta McCarthy, Managing Partner for Golden Seeds, LLC, Lesley Jane Seymour, Editor-In-Chief of More Magazine, Soledad O’Brien, the Emmy Award-Winning Journalist.

Almost 2000 miles away, our Albuquerque NGN Day attendees watched as those stories unfolded on Livestream Video, and there was hardly a dry eye in the room. To witness the pain these women experienced, and to see how raw those wounds still were after years of success – it was an extremely powerful moment of clarity for all of us and helped launch one of the most intimate, honest and catalyzing conversations among our own local panelist discussion which followed the Livestream event.

None of us saw the panelists’ tears and vulnerability as weakness. These women had, in their own pinnacles of success, made it possible for other women to be their true selves and not leave half of who they were as women at the door in order to be considered credible, equal or successful. They made it that much easier for women everywhere to be true to themselves without risking disdain, disrespect or misunderstanding in the professional world.

I make it a habit to consume articles from around the globe which address the challenges of women seeking venture capital, and imagine my shock and disappointment when I recently read Less Emotion, More Action Needed in Female-Led Startup Movement written by Laura Braverman, a columnist for USA Today and Upstart, as a follow-up editorial to a local SOAR women’s networking event held in the Triangle area of North Carolina, a hotbed for startup activity over the past decade. According to her piece, “IDEA Fund Partners and Bull City Venture Partners are two of the most active investors in town and BCVP has never backed a company with a female CEO (though 60 percent of its companies have one on the management team) and at least 95 percent of deal flow comes from male-led companies.”

Braverman wrote, “The tide won’t change until the women in the room can move past the storytelling and take advantage of the insights, experiences and knowledge of investors giving up their time to help move the needle. In the hour-long presentation, the panel received few questions about how to build more attractive businesses to fund, and more comments and stories about how hard it is to get funding.” She went on to say that women “need to prove that any bias is unfounded”.

I promise you, if I’d been in the room, there would have been even more emotion about the inequity of investments than was already witnessed there that night, although mine might have been more on the edge of anger than tears. I’ve been at this long enough that I’ve learned that anger usually brings power, whether that is fair or not. I don’t like it, and I don’t like having to project anger when what I feel are tears, but I’ve been growing a business in the middle of a male-dominated industry, and I’ve had to adapt even when it isn’t fair or reasonable.

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Anyone who has tried to raise investment capital knows that even when you have everything right – the team, the concept, the revenue, the projections – it is a very difficult process where only about one company among every 100 business plans submitted to a venture capital firm actually gets funded. If you’re a woman founder, you can count on it being even more difficult, since women-owned companies in the U.S. only received about 13% of that venture capital in 2013. So when you have a room full of women who have already discovered just how difficult it is to get their businesses funded, and a panel of local venture capitalists are addressing an audience that clearly understands that most of the panelists have no intention of funding their companies, I’m not sure exactly what could be expected as the outcome other than strong emotion and tales from the audience about their own difficulties finding capital. Isn’t the time better spent trying to impress upon him the error of his thinking than asking him for advice – when his advice is going to be biased based on his stated opinions?

It is an interesting concept that women fear the tears of another woman entrepreneur, believing that these tears will perpetuate a bias of women being weak. Why is it that anger and outright bad behavior are far more acceptable among men CEO’s and founders of startups than are tears among women? Tears are an outlet of emotion, whether that emotion is anger, sadness, fear or something else. And it’s usually a far less destructive outlet than it is when those same emotions are vented through anger. Why is it seen as a sign of strength for a male founder to have bursts of anger like it is some kind of badge of honor but when women release their emotions, everyone works very hard to shut them up? The recent firing of Jill Abramson from her position as the Executive Editor of the New York Times has sparked a national conversation surrounding equal pay and whether Abramson was fired for discovering she was paid less or for her management style, which was described as “pushy” and “brusque”. On a male counterpart, wouldnt those traits be described as “to the point” and “driven”?

Self Talk by Rachel Abeyta

We will be hosting our second Albuquerque event for the National Girlfriends Network Day on June 4, 2014, at our corporate offices for APPCityLife, and I, for one, am going to work very hard to make it one event where women are free to be vulnerable, honest and able to be true to their full self as a woman. It should be possible to be real – and really successful. If more women like Kym Hampton were brave enough to share the vulnerable, emotional side of themselves in national, public arenas, it would go a long way in making editorials like Braverman’s less common.

Freedoms of American Women

Egyptian woman being beaten by soldiers

On July 4 every year, Americans celebrate the birth and freedom of their country in the best of ways, I think – watching baseball games, enjoying cookouts, spending time with friends, vacationing, and, for many, working. In this economy, the freedom to find work or start a business and earn a living is a freedom that many no longer take lightly. And as a woman, I’ve found myself several times recently considering the wealth of freedom I have because I am an American woman.

In Egypt, news recently broke of women being protected by walls of men simply so they could mingle their voices with the crowds of protestors. When I think of the freedom we have in America, man or woman, to speak our minds and protest, it is sobering to think of women being sexually assaulted as the price of their choice to protest the actions of their government. There worse, far more disturbing photos I found documenting these atrocities, but the one I shared above is disturbing enough.

I have often observed the disparities of funding opportunities for women in our own country, and it is disparate that less than ten percent of venture capital deals go to women-led organizations. (And I have news for the amazing group of investors who have chosen to support our company – a new report indicates that investors of women-led business outperformed those that didn’t.) But when I stop to consider the number of countries where women cannot own property, cannot vote, and do not even have the right to take their children with them when they separate from a spouse, I am deeply grateful for the freedoms I am afforded as a woman business owner in America. I have the freedom to create my own destiny and evoke change for the destiny of others around me if only I have the courage, the fortitude and the wits to persevere in the path I’ve chosen. That is an amazing freedom that I do not take lightly when I consider how rare that still is throughout the globe.

And even as an American wife and mother, I am afforded tremendous freedom compared to my counterparts in less fortunate circumstances throughout the world. I am recognized as an equal partner in a marriage by my government. I have rights to my children, and unless I have behaved so badly that the government decides those rights do more harm than good, I am assured a relationship with my children no matter what happens to my marriage. For me, well, I’ve been married to my husband for over 25 years, and we have shared in the joys and sorrows of raising our children together. But for so many women, their entire future – and that of their children – is wrapped up in the control of someone else. As a mother of three children, that is a horrifying thought.

And so today I am truly celebrating the freedoms I enjoy on this, our nation’s celebration of it’s own freedom from tyranny. But as we all celebrate, I hope we will remember how unique our freedoms are – and that when and where we can, we need to further the consciousness of others that women elsewhere do not enjoy what we do here in America.