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The Boys' Club

Women entrepreneurs are creating a formula for success.
January 1, 2008
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/187514

When it comes to rapid growth, the biotech industry is no slouch. According to Ernst & Young's 2007 "Global Biotechnology Report," capital raised by the world's biotechnology companies grew 42 percent in 2006 to reach $27.9 billion. So how are women faring in this red-hot industry?"We saw women entrepreneurs having a much harder time raising money and getting resources," says Robbie Melton, president of Women In Bio, a national organization. "[That's why] we offer educational programs--to give them a leg up."

"The number of women entrepreneurs is growing, but there are still far fewer women entrepreneurs in biotech than men," says Jane H. Hollingsworth, founder of Malvern, Pennsylvania-based Auxilium, a urology and health products company that earned revenue of about $94 million last year. Now CEO of NuPathe Inc., a developer of therapeutic products for neurological and psychiatric diseases, she attributes the lack of women in biotech to fewer role models.

But Hollingsworth, 49, doesn't see much discrepancy between men and women once they get started in business. "The only difference has been that some investors have trouble envisioning investing in a company started and run by women," she says. "Fortunately, those investors seem to be few and far between."

Magda Marquet, 49, co-president and co-CEO of Althea Technologies , a technology and service provider to pharmaceutical developers, experienced bias firsthand. "When we started Althea, some potential investors were uncomfortable that I was a woman with two young children," says Marquet. "They were concerned I wouldn't give 100 percent of my energy to the business."

Marquet, who co-founded the San Diego company in 1998, says she's grateful her investors trusted her. She did, however, have a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering and an impressive re-cord of employment at several major pharmaceutical companies.

While Marquet says she possesses a passion for life sciences, she concedes that "success takes time and persistence. It also takes luck. It's harder to prove yourself as a woman leader." Under Marquet's leadership, Althea reached sales of about $30 million in 2007.

For Alisa Wright, CEO of BioConvergence LLC , a contract solutions provider to the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, being a woman has had little negative impact on her biotech pursuits. "I think the opposite is true: The female stereotypes of being more relationship-oriented and multitask-capable worked in my favor as our industry moved to more project- and team-based work," says Wright, 44. "I've been more than fortunate to not have experienced the barriers some women have encountered."

With contracts exceeding $25 million, Wright's Bloomington, Indiana-based business is very capital intensive. As a woman-led company, BioConvergence met the qualifications for an SBA program. "We were able to secure more funding through this program than the norm," Wright explains. "The fact that there are so few women-owned small businesses in our particular sector may have [also] played a role."