First off, I really hate all this 2.0 naming. Why plant yourself in a time that is on the verge of obsolescence? Women 2.0. What can I say? Are we software that needs an upgrade?
Anyway, Women 2.0 is running a pitch contest (great idea), but for the rules way down at the bottom which say:
Women 2.0 Napkin Business Challenge Eligibility and Rules
The business plan must represent the original work of members of the team. You can submit as many business ideas on napkins as you want. You may have a team of up to four individuals. At least half of the team must be female and at least half of the team must be under 35; else the majority shareholder must be a woman and under 35. This is a Women 2.0 and Entrepreneur27 production after all.
Nice. So Mike Moritz and Tim Drapier are the prizes (meetings with them for another pitch). And the judges are mostly women, over 35.
Isn't the issue that women who are first timers need a lot of help getting started in terms of making a startup, pitching and getting funding? And, there are so few women anyway. Why on earth would you limit it? If you are really concerned that the few women over 35 that might submit ideas are going to wipe out the few women under 35, why not divide them into categories by age?
There is so much to know as you make a startup, and you need experienced people around you to clue you in, because almost none of what you really need to know is written down or even bloggable.
My best learning experiences have been with people who have a lot of experiences with the VC community, who can explain how things work, the quirky hand done ways of VC land, and what the various relationships are between people, and just how connected they are in what appears from the outside to be invisible.
I also am well aware that women over 35 are often seen as invisible in our society. If women are only valued for their looks (not how I see the world, but there is certainly a large percentage that treats women this way, and they aren't only men), then a woman over 35 is a stereotypical 'fading bloom.' And a women over 35 making her first company, pitching for the first time, in this Byzantine and fairly undocumented world around funding can be very difficult, because people may well be seeing right past her.
I don't believe I've had this experience myself, and maybe that's because people don't see me at about that age. Or maybe it's because of other things.. I don't really care. The bottom line is for women who are older, it's more difficult.
The thought of going to Sand Hill Road and standing up for yourself and your ideas can be intimidating. VCs meetings can be hard. One VC interrupted me 12 times (after the third, I started making tic marks) to say that with his startup (10 years before) they never had to do anything social. And he didn't belive in it now and why on earth was I even thinking about it? I don't mind defending what I work on, but you really have to have it very together, and often they actually don't want a real answer. They are looking for the right code words to provide comfort that this is a good investment. If you don't speak the way they understand the world, you will not be taken seriously. They also may be looking for push back instead of inclusiveness if they challenge you, and women when they first meet someone are often reluctant to push back without more relationship building. Right there in the first 5 minutes of a meeting, that can be a confidence undermining event for both parties. Women do communicate differently than men, and it doesn't change at 35.
One adviser I have talks about how Silicon Valley (or Silicon Village) is run on fear and greed. Greed comes first, but fear trumps all. And listening to the years of stories does make that world more understandable and feel less scary, more like something you can work with in an acceptable way.
Anyway, my point is, Women 2.0 needs to focus on what the barriers are: going out the first time with your first company. Doesn't matter whether you are 25 or 70. It's going to require a support network and information no matter your age. Women do have different needs than men, and we do behave differently in these situations. We tend to network differently, and that can be a barrier as well.
Women 2.0 isn't helping by institutionalizing and making acceptable agism. On top of everything else women face going to Sand Hill, that's just not something we need, especially from our own.
Update: I took this photo at Mesh07:
All the more reason I think this post was necessary to point out that first time women entrepreneurs and not young entrepreneurs are the ones who need help. I don't care if it wasn't towing the party line. Age discrimination isn't right.Posted by Mary Hodder at March 25, 2007 11:03 AM | TrackBack