The co-founder of PITCH finalist SupportPay on the lack of startups targeting middle-aged women.  

By Sheri Atwood (Founder, SupportPay)

I have always known that the startup world was full of young entrepreneurs, but it wasn’t until I attended my first startup event and found myself surrounded by college students and 20-somethings that it really hit me. My company is one of the few that is actually targeting…me. Though there are plenty of women in business, not many are creating startups for middle-aged women, designed by middle-aged women. I realized I was in for a long journey, without much support or best practices to help me along the way.

But the fact is, this is a demographic currently left largely underserved. There is a real lack of startups, and technology, that address the unique challenges that women are facing in the middle of our lives. Understanding what these challenges are is the first step. Our generation of women is experiencing an entirely new set of obstacles than those before us. We’re working full time on our careers, while balancing raising our children, working on a happy marriage, caring for elder parents, and more – not to mention trying to take care of ourselves in the process. Having a first-hand grasp of some of the specific issues that arise from these circumstances allows us to better find ways to solve them.

Balancing Full-time Work and Family

It’s no secret that the working women of the world are still trying to perfect the balancing act of raising a family while still maintaining a successful career. We’re making progress on this constant juggling, and there is more to do before we find a better way to manage all the aspects that come with a career and family.

The Digital World and Our Children

I may be tech-savvy but the digital world that my child is exposed to is down-right scary. I knew I was in trouble when my daughter knew how to break into my blackberry when she was 3 ½. Now that she’s ten years old, I feel like I spend as much time, or more, monitoring what she is doing than her actually doing it. And I know even if I protect her at home there are so many other places she could access information that I may not feel is appropriate for her.

One example, YouTube. Will someone please come up with a way to block inappropriate content? Our kids are spending more time online watching videos – yet there is no basic content filtering that you get on TV. And that is just one example. This world didn’t exist when we were children. Now, we’re simultaneously learning about our new digital world, while also trying to supervise our children’s interaction with it.

Divorce and Life After

Having a happy marriage alongside the myriad of other issues that middle-aged women are dealing with is definitely important; but it’s also a harsh reality that 50% of marriages in the United States today end in divorce. Many women of my generation are facing this issue, and there’s surprisingly little in the way of technology to help them. I remember watching my own parents go through a difficult divorce, and knew I wanted things to be different when I went through my own.

Getting the divorce is only the first step; if you have children, there are more rough roads ahead, particularly when it comes to child support. I had no idea how hard it would be to manage child support and the many other expenses involved with raising a child. When I tried to find a solution, I was shocked that something didn’t already exist to solve this problem. This problem is what led me to create my current business, SupportPay. [SupportPay is a finalist for the Women 2.0 PITCH Competition being held at our upcoming conference. Tickets are still available!]

Caring for Aging Parents

More now than in the past, women are choosing to have children later in life. For many, that means that caring for young children also coincides with caring for their own parents as they start to age. There’s a reason they call us the “Sandwich Generation;” we’re smack in the middle of attending to the needs of our parents and our kids at the same time. We’ve learned to ask for help and accept it when offered, but how else can we manage these needs alongside all the rest?

As I’ve started my own business, I looked for other startups by women my age and could only find a handful. How can we have more middle-aged women leave corporate America to take the risk of starting the company of their dreams and building solutions to fill those problems we face? We also need more investors who are willing to support these startups to help break the mold. We need to invest in these new areas that haven’t seen innovation in the past. We need a movement to support these new ideas. I sure do hope it starts soon, because I have plenty of other problems that need solving!

What other needs of middle-aged women would you like to see startups address?

SheriAbout the guest blogger: Sheri Atwood is a 15-year tech veteran and the founder of SupportPay, an automated child support payment platform. SupportPay helps single, divorced & remarried parents manage child support by allowing them to enter receipts, pay each other, pay third parties directly, set reminders, and create a paper trail.