Women’s Startup Academy 2020

We are excited to announce that Beta Boom has teamed up with Womenpreneurs to run a startup academy for women that will take place from April to September 2020. Womenpreneurs is a leading organization supporting female entrepreneurs in Utah and beyond. Their workshops and programs have helped more than 300 women improve their leadership skills, prepare for fundraising and connect with valuable mentor and investor networks. Beta Boom is focused on helping founders find product-market fit and build skills in lean product development and startup marketing to better ensure long-term success. Together, Beta Boom and Womenpreneurs aim to empower female entrepreneurs with the skills and tactics through a 6-month startup academy that will provide daily coaching from product, marketing, leadership and fundraising experts.

The year 2020 marks an important milestone for women throughout the U.S. and in Utah. It is the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing and protecting women’s right to vote. This year is also the 150th anniversary of women in Utah being able to vote under the state’s equal suffrage law. Despite these laudable pioneering efforts in the fight for gender equality, we are constantly reminded that we have a long way to go, particularly in economic equality and equal opportunities for leadership in economic and public life.  

There remains a stubbornly large pay gap between men and women, particularly in the technology sector. Female entrepreneurs across the country continue to receive a paltry share of venture capital investment. In Utah, our home state, women receive only 2% of venture capital investment in 2017, and the Brookings Institute found that Utah County was last among the regions they studied in terms of the share (4%) of women-led, venture-backed startups. 

As two woman-led companies that support female founders, we want to honor the work of the pioneers of the gender equality movement by focusing our full energy in 2020 to support female entrepreneurs. We can make a dent in the unfortunate statistics mentioned above! 

The academy is open to female founders of early-stage software startups that are looking to build a fundamentally strong business, a convincing pitch, and connections to investors, mentors, and supporters. Admission to the program is highly competitive and applications are open until March 1st with the academy kicking off on March 30th. Founders based anywhere in the U.S. are encouraged to apply, and accepted teams will be required to spend three one-week periods in the Salt Lake City area, where Beta Boom and Womenpreneurs are based. However, the program will follow an executive MBA-style format allowing founders to participate remotely if they prefer. 

To apply, please visit the application page at: https://betaboom.com/apply/

Admitted founder teams can expect an intensive program consisting of daily coaching from product, marketing, leadership and fundraising coaches. This means that at least one of the team members needs to be committed full-time to your business to participate. The scope of the academy will include measuring baseline product-market fit, customer interviews and surveys, weekly marketing experiments and product enhancements, ongoing leadership training for women, preparation for fundraising, and pitching venture capital and angel investors. 

For more information on the academy and the application process, please visit: https://betaboom.com/academy/.

Please help us spread the word by sharing with your professional and personal networks! And if you’d like to participate as a mentor, co-investor, or strategic partner, please email sergio [at] betaboom.com.

Let’s make 2020 the year we make the biggest strides in closing the opportunity gap for female entrepreneurs!


A Look Back at our SOCAP Diversity & Impact Gathering

As we enter the winter season approaching the end of the year, we wanted to reflect on one of the highlights of the previous season. In October, we attended SOCAP19 in San Francisco. As every year, this impact investing conference created an amazing space for connecting to other change-makers, sharing information and hearing from industry leaders. The reason this year was particularly special was that Beta Boom co-hosted a happy hour mixer that brought together diverse founders, impact investors, and supporters for an evening of conversation.

Our motivation to host was clear. First, SOCAP is a huge conference that can feel overwhelming. After a day of inspirational addresses, panels, and networking it’s important to decompress and talk with people who share our interests. Second, since starting Beta Boom, we’ve had the great pleasure to connect with national organizations that are promoting inclusive entrepreneurship across the US (such as the Kauffman and Case Foundations), as well as many local groups supporting female entrepreneurs and people of color. Our work also builds ties to individuals seeking to invest in more diverse founders. While all these groups are working toward a common goal, they aren’t often in the same room together. 

In short, we hear all the time about the need for greater connection and collaboration between founders, investors, and supporters, so we endeavored to bring them together in a relaxed setting to further build these connections.

Co-host Monique Aiken, VP of Programs at Mission Investors Exchange (MIE) came wearing multiple hats including as a member of the steering committee for the SEO impact investing network and as an alumna of the Tiogo Foundation. In the spirit of collaboration, Monique merged MIE’s 4th annual happy hour event with this gathering, inviting all threads of her connections to attend as “a testament to the spirit of the night.” She encouraged the room to “work in coalition and build community to go further, faster together.” 

The founder conversation highlighted the need to focus on the user and chart one’s own path

In a room overlooking the Bay, with food and drinks in hand, conversation flowed and connections were sparked. We wanted to give our guests a window onto the important work founders and supporters do, and highlight how these roles intersect, so we organized two informal Q&As. Our founding partner, Sergio led the first conversation made up of three founders/CEOs: 

  • Meena Palaniappan of Atma Connect, a non-profit tech company working to build resilience in low-income urban communities worldwide; 
  • Amanda DoAmaral of Fiveable, an EdTech livestream platform that prepares high school students for AP tests; and
  • Erica Plybeah of MedHaul, a company providing transportation solutions for medical patients in low-income and rural urban communities.

They started by discussing the most important lessons they’ve learned as founders. Erica confessed she’d been a perfectionist before she became a founder, “and any founders out there know that doesn’t work well. I also had to realize I can’t do everything in one day.” She advised fellow entrepreneurs to take work/life balance seriously, and explained she spends a couple mornings a month volunteering in her son’s classroom. “I don’t bring my phone, I don’t check my email, which is very tough. It’s a very exhilarating experience.”

Meena continued by noting the lessons her users have taught her, explaining that “purely as a result of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people [we serve],” Atma has gone from “a way for urban poor people to share water price information,” to a tool for building resilience to future disasters. “I’m just constantly humbled and amazed by that.”

Amanda, who didn’t come from a business background before launching her startup, talked about how she’s learned that “Everyone is making it up as they go.” While finding investors and advisers who can help you get from A to B is key, she’s also learned that there are really no specific markers of success, so founders should “Just keep going.” She also touched on how her platform can address the immediate needs of her users, saying, “We all think that education needs a big overhaul, and that’s true, but the kids right now need it tomorrow. They don’t have time for us to get it together and overhaul it.”

All three women closed by mentioning how partnerships could help take their companies to the next level. Amanda and Fiveable are looking for a way to help students pay for livestreams. Meena explained that entering the disaster space has brought Atma into conversations with insurance companies like SwissRe, (whose tagline is “Making the world more resilient”) and she’s been buoyed by the realization that there are “big institutional sectors that are driven by the same goals that our users have.” Erica and Medhaul have already partnered with Lyft, and she noted, “Solving issues in healthcare is not something that one company can do,” so she’s open to “nontraditional” partnerships with big companies like Google or Walmart. 

Sergio concluded by reminding the crowd that one thing Beta Boom really believes in is helping entrepreneurs in ways beyond investing capital. Supporters “can provide connections to customers, to mentorships, to strategic partnerships, and there’s also a huge value in providing visibility into the work that founders are doing. So when you do meet a founder I would really challenge you to ask yourself, ‘What other ways can we help them be successful and better serve their users, their customers?’ ”

Investors and supporters challenged us to check ourselves, think of unintended consequences and to perhaps not run fast and break things

Kimmy led the second conversation featuring investors and supporters from innovative organizations:

This conversation zoomed out a bit to address the differences these panelists see between predominant models of investing and thinking about tech and the ways they and their respective organizations see and do things. 

Eliza set the tone in her intro about why she’s currently focused on poverty and inequality in the US, saying, “we’re at a critical juncture… and there’s massive urgency around how we think about and start to shift systems here.” She continued by explaining her approach to investment, adding, “I’m somewhat contrarian in the venture investing world in that I don’t want my entrepreneurs to run fast and break things. I want them to be thoughtful and deliberate and energized.” 

After explaining that her org “believes that dignified job creation is the best way to tackle poverty in emerging-market countries,” Nathalie stressed the importance of “hacking” in a very particular sense: “Working with people who have done [similar work] and are willing to share their results.” This approach is currently playing out in an initiative she’s working on that will integrate gender-equity metrics into the enterprises where NESsT invests.

As one of two developers of the first CRM system and co-founder of the People-Centered Internet, Mei Lin took a moment to emphasize that investing and innovating “isn’t just about getting money and doing things” — it’s also paramount to consider the unforeseen consequences of the technology we are working to create.

Building on the notion of thinking beyond the current moment, Dustin stated that the most important thing he’s learned in the impact investing space is the need to “Check yourself. Always. It is my absolute privilege to be able to work with entrepreneurs that are changing the world, and I come to things from my very own perspective, [which] is white, male, and privileged. I’ve had to learn to actually engage with people and understand what their struggles are and, honestly, to always try to provide value to the other person in conversation.”


Diversity as a Driver For Innovation

Yes, it actually does matter

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

It’s 2019 and people still treat diversity building in their organization as a checking-the-box exercise. If you are still applying the Rooney Rule or saying things like “we need to fill our quota,” you’re getting it all wrong.

What do I mean by diversity? I’m not just talking about the obvious gender and ethnic diversity, I’m also referring to diversity of thought that is born out of having different experiences: education, work experiences and life experiences.

The data is compounding showing that diversity yields better performance and better innovation. From the board level to workforce composition, the yields are higher and challenging thought yields higher performance and more novel outputs.

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It’s Time for Tech to Step Up

There are many sad truths about the state of tech today:

It’s this last point to which I want to speak more about here (though I could talk on end about the first two). In fact, the first two are in many ways feeding the third. It has been acknowledged that the center of the tech industry, Silicon Valley continues to be obsessed with myopic first-world problems in part due to an ongoing lack of diversity (gender, race, and socioeconomic). This is the reason I have chosen to focus on rising tech cities — to avoid some of the past mistakes in these new ecosystems and broaden the scope of companies that are being funded.

Impact is not a dirty word

We understand that it’s easy to go after frivolous and trendy problems, but to leave the greatest issues to non-profits, philanthropy and governments to solve is putting us greatly at a disadvantage as a society. Further, the myth that alpha cannot be gained in a mission-based company needs to be debunked if we are to see this tide change.

Melinda Gates recently drew light on this issue, stating:

One thing that does bug me is that, even for the big world problems Bill [Gates] and I are talking about, sometimes the tech world thinks the solution is to give somebody an app. Well, that’s not going to change everything. I would also love to see more tech innovation on behalf of the world. “Let’s create the next thing that tracks my dog” — that’s fun and nice, but come on, there are people dying.

Melinda Gates on Tech Innovation, Global Health and Her Own Privilege
You would perhaps be demonstrating an excess of sympathy to feel sorry for ultrawealthy philanthropists. But it’s fair…www.nytimes.com

Entering the VC space, I have been bothered by this as well. I am considered an impact investor, which can often seen to in be in conflict with venture and as deleterious to returns. But why? Are we to believe that asking ‘does the world need another one of these’ is a bad thing that can reduce potential profits. 

I often advise companies that if the way you make money and the way you positively impact the world are in-line, or better yet interdependent, then your triple/double-bottom line will grow together. 

These are the kinds of companies that we must seek to make the new norm. We need to stop believing that conscious companies are bad investments. And we certainly must stop being complacent with the deficiencies of tech based on historic biases.

The future is in the whitespace

In the same way that data is compiling to support that startups led by women outperform (returning 78% of every dollar vs. 31% otherwise), that diverse teams outperform (35% more likely to beat national average performance) and rising tech cities can produce higher multiples (Midwest and South yields the highest multiple in the US), so too do I believe that investing in mission-based companies can match or outperform the status quo. 

It’s time for both founders and investors to start digging deeper and acknowledge that the way capital is concentrated today is not the most efficient and a better path is emerging to follow if we wake up. Creating a better world and making a profit are possible, but it requires us to step away from the biased track record of the past.


The importance of depth in a tech startup ecosystem

Kauffman Foundation, SURGE, Blink, Global Entrepreneurship Network (Startup Genome), among others all offer individual rankings for the entrepreneurial ecosystems across various regions. Each includes a measure of the density of either high-growth companies or mature ones. The fact is both are important indicators that can also influence another metric — the quality and strength of the workforce.

Given that workers currently spend a median of 4.6 years at a given job (and for ages 25-34 only 3.2 years), in deciding to relocate for a specific opportunity, people often look at what their next jobs may may be within that market. A tipping point occurs for many growing ecosystems such as Chicago and Austin such that there are so many opportunities that attracting talent becomes easier and the population growth accelerates. These opportunities need not only be within startups but often include more mature businesses as well. The transference of work talent spills over in both directions and they catalyze each other.

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