Lauren Tracey, founder of X-Factor Films: “Our business model has evolved significantly with the help of the business community at the VDC and their ability to think outside the box.”
Why aren’t more women like Lauren connected to the valuable resources the Boston startup community offers? Banu Özkazanç-Pan (pictured below), a business professor at University of Massachusetts Boston, and her colleagues Susan Clark Muntean of University of North Carolina, and Karren K. Watkins of University of Pennsylvania, were awarded $47,000 by the Kauffman Foundation to find out.
As part of their research, Özkazanç-Pan and her colleagues will examine what entrepreneurship support organizations are doing to foster diversity and inclusion by analyzing and comparing two regional entrepreneurship ecosystems: St. Louis, Missouri, and Boston, Massachusetts. Their aim is to figure out what’s working in both regions, what could be better, and how some of the best-practices can be emulated in other entrepreneurship support organizations.
In their previous research on entrepreneurship support organizations, published by the Kauffman Foundation, Özkazanç-Pan and her team found that female entrepreneurs did not utilize entrepreneurship support organizations. Their research points to two reasons: the female entrepreneurs were unaware of the support available to them or they felt they were ineligible, believing the support offered was for young males in the tech sector looking to raise venture capital money.
Lauren Tracy’s goal is instructive. She often reminded me: “I’m not a techie.” She explained: “My father, who is also one of our business partners, pointed out that I was going to be a minority in Hollywood as a director. So we set out to find a solution for myself as a filmmaker. It then grew into a business when talented women told us they were having the same issue.” (See X-Factor Films Have Their Eyes on the Billion Dollar Prize in Hollywood.)
With this new grant, the research team will compare the access to, and utilization of, resources by female entrepreneurs with their male counterparts. They will also analyze to what degree do the different structural, cultural, and individual-level elements of an entrepreneurial ecosystem limit the establishment and growth of female-owned startups.
Banu and her colleagues don’t believe the solution to bolstering diversity in the startup world is gender-focused programming because it further marginalizes a group of people who are already feeling marginalized. They suggest a different approach. “Consider redesigning programs rather than extending specialized ones to include women. What has worked to recruit your current clients may not necessarily work for a different demographic.” They advise, “Engage in a proactive communication strategy. Talk to the female entrepreneurs that do come to your programs and events, and identify the common language, schedules, and needs of them.”
I couldn’t resist asking Banu how the VDC is doing as an entrepreneurship support organization. “I think the VDC has done a great job recruiting high-caliber entrepreneurs and focusing on diversity as an asset that can foster more innovation. For women entrepreneurs especially, incubators and accelerators as well as other support organizations must be inclusive spaces. This means availability of services, programs, and support that is equal to those received by male entrepreneurs and colleagues in the space who are respectful about differences. The VDC has done an excellent job creating a culture of inclusion and innovation.”
But we are as anxious to learn as any organization how to take our efforts to the next level.