StartOut, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship in the lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual (LGBT) community, has announced the 2013 Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program. This second annual event pairs lesbian entrepreneurs with seasoned mentors to help them grow their businesses.
StartOut board member Leanne Pittsford, owner of San Francisco-based communications firm Start Somewhere, is co-chair of the program. She took time out to talk about the event and the need for mentorship among lesbian entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneur: Why launch this program?
Pittsford: I got involved with StartOut a couple of years ago when I was starting my business. I was interested in getting more women involved, so as we started talking to women and asking them what issues they face and what would help them, everyone said mentorship. We looked at how we could structure the program and launched it last year. We had ten entrepreneurs matched with ten mentors, last year and plan to have the same number this year.
Entrepreneur: What particular challenges do lesbian entrepreneurs face?
Pittsford: There are equality issues even within diverse audiences. When you think about the gender gap when it comes to pay, a lesbian couple might earn significantly less than a gay couple. And every entrepreneur needs access to information and guidance. I wanted to get more women involved in StartOut and also raise visibility.
It used to be that when you Googled lesbian mentor or lesbian role model, [the only results would be] Melissa Etheridge and Ellen DeGeneres. So, part of the program is just creating more stories and visibility so there are more business mentors and examples out there for the community.
Entrepreneur: Who are the mentors?
Pittsford: We have remarkably successful mentors who also lesbian entrepreneurs so they understand the challenges our entrepreneurs face. They are experienced in technology, media, ecommerce, finance, and many other areas. Most of those who are participating came through came through our own networks . As we grow and find more funding for this program, we'd like to be able to match more people. For a list of last year’s mentors and entrepreneurs, click here.
Entrepreneur: How does it work?
Pittsford: Once we review applicants and match them with participating mentors, they work together for six months. We ask that they meet in person at least once and then they're free to structure their relationship. The mentors are available to the entrepreneur to answer questions, provide guidance and suggestions, and help them with challenges in their businesses. This is our first national program. We had 60 applicants last year and we expect more this year.
Entrepreneur: Are there any success stories from your pilot program?
Pittsford: Definitely-- in one case, the entrepreneur and mentor started working on a new project together and the entrepreneur is doing ongoing subcontracting work for her mentor. It's helping both of their companies. Sometimes, it's just a great match and the relationship survives beyond the mentoring period.
Entrepreneurs can apply to be mentors or to be paired with a mentor in this free program on StartOut's website. The deadline for applications is February 10, 2013.