The dotcom crash hit many businesses hard, but have women entrepreneurs suffered more than their male counterparts? Syl Tang thinks so. "People who once believed in my company now suggest I get a 'girlie job,' such as PR," says Tang, 28, CEO of HipGuide, a multimedia city guide in New York City.
"Women entrepreneurs, despite what financiers may say, are still considered an investment risk," Tang contends. Because of this unspoken sentiment, she believes, women-owned businesses are among the first affected by an economic crunch and the last to get the financing or lines of credit they need.
But not everyone thinks gender plays a part in the challenges women-owned tech businesses have faced. Though several of the entrepreneurs Elizabeth Carlassare interviewed for her book Dotcom Divas: E-Business Insights From the Visionary Women Founders of 20 Net Ventures(McGraw-Hill) have shut down since the book came out last year, Carlassare views their difficulties as gender-neutral. "Men and women alike are struggling to keep their businesses afloat or are sitting on the sidelines waiting for economic conditions to improve," she says.
"I don't think women have suffered any more than male entrepreneurs. It was an equal-opportunity meltdown," says Kim Polese, 39, chairman, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Marimba Inc., an enterprise software company in Mountain View, California. "Looking at the silver lining, as a result of the Internet explosion, many women became first-time entrepreneurs." Regardless of whether their businesses succeeded, Polese says, they gained valuable experience that will serve them well should they choose to start other businesses.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With the markets looking so grim, where will the next wave of female tech and dotcom entrepreneurs come from? Polese believes efforts must be made to get more girls to pursue science and math. "Girls and women are missing out on a great career opportunity [by avoiding these subjects]. As a society, we must change this situation by getting girls to feel comfortable with science and math at an early age."
Donna Sokolsky, 32, co-founder of Sparkpr, a public relations agency focusing on emerging technologies and the venture capital community, points to the increasing number of role models out there. "During the dotcom boom, women became an invaluable part of the technology work force and remain so today," says the San Francisco entrepreneur.
Tang recently spoke to 200 high school girls in New York City. "It was amazing to see how many of them are fascinated by-and, more important, literate in-technology," she says. "The next generation of women tech leaders [is in] our high schools today-especially the urban schools."
The corporate world is also a possible source for future tech leaders, believes Varsha Rao, co-founder of now-defunct online beauty products store Eve.com. "We can develop more women tech entrepreneurs by encouraging more women to join the 'large training ground' companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco," says the 31-year-old, adding that experience at these companies can be leveraged when starting one's own business.
Carlassare thinks the next generation of women tech entrepreneurs will emerge from many places. "Some will be serial entrepreneurs ready to start their next business. Others will ditch corporate careers once they hit on a great idea and the itch to start their own company becomes too strong. They'll all benefit from the trails blazed by the women entrepreneurs who started tech companies before them."
Aliza Pilar Sherman is an Internet pioneer, e-entrepreneur, speaker and author of the book PowerTools for Women in Business: 10 Ways to Succeed in Life and Work (Entrepreneur Press).