By Sarah Perez (Writer, TechCrunch)
Women Innovate Mobile (WIM), the new accelerator aimed to help promote companies started by female entrepreneurs, is ready to debut its first class. Like other incubators, WIM provides mentoring, support, free office space, and seed funding. Participants in the program receive $18,000 to help get their companies get off the ground.
Except unlike the majority of other programs, WIM requires not only that the companies focus on mobile, but also that one of the co-founders must be a woman.
Recently, there have been a few other programs aimed at helping minorities and other under-represented groups get involved in entrepreneurship, including NewME, and the newly launched DreamIt Access. In NewME’s case, the focus is on helping African-Americans, Latinos, and women, while DreamIt is focused on a wider range of minorities, including Asian-Americans, for example.
In WIM’s case, however, the minority in question is women.
Based on the spirited debate that took place in the comments of our earlier coverage, there appears to be a wide range of opinions as to whether or not female entrepreneurship programs are the best way to help women get started with running tech companies. Few will argue that having a women in a leadership position or on a company’s board is a bad thing – it’s usually a great thing for a startup. The question, rather, is whether women-only groups are the best way to facilitate that.
Obviously, the issue, like most complex ones, is not black and white. Women need to be encouraged to go into technology and business careers, for example. There should be more women in STEM, and at younger ages, which requires more overall support for STEM in the U.S. There’s still societal pressure for women to do it all, if they choose to have children. And there are confusing messages from women in power, like when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encouraged women to stop blaming others (e.g., men, society, etc.) for holding them back. For some, that message is empowering and inspiring, while for others, it’s depressing – if you’ve failed, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough?
Side note: I personally like how Jezebel summed up that particular situation, when they said:
"Though Sandberg might not be overtly calling the woman who’s falling behind at work because she can’t afford child care lazy, she is implying that the only impediment between the average working woman and the riches of corporate America is attitude and that most definitely is not true."
No, attitude alone doesn’t get you there – but it helps. So does, I suppose, improved access to funding, based (partly) on gender.
As for WIM, explains Managing Director Kelly Hoey, they’re leaving the “why’s” regarding women entrepreneurship to someone else. WIM, simply put, is a market opportunity.
“Accelerators are proven models for helping young startups, and there are a lot women out there starting tech ventures,” she says. “The absence of women in large numbers in existing accelerator programs was an opportunity for us with WIM, and that’s what we took.”
Hoey also notes that while the minority angle may seem as if WIM is in competition with other minority-focused incubators, they’re really competing with all incubators, everywhere. However, when a startup isn’t accepted into WIM, they’re referring the founders on to other programs. In fact, WIM’s advice to women is to apply to as many programs as possible to increase the odds of getting in.
As for why WIM should be on a female entrepreneur’s list at all? Hoey admits that while WIM’s mentorship network doesn’t rival YC or TechStars, the group’s founders have networks to draw on, specifically in mobile. In addition to Hoey, a business strategist, connector, and former attorney, WIM was created by Veronika Sonsev, the co-founder of inSparq and the non-profit Women in Wireless, and someone who has 14 years in mobile. The third founder is Deborah Jackson, also the founder of JumpThru, a Golden Seeds angel investor, and who spent decades working on Wall Street.
“We have networks to draw on,” explains Hoey. “We have mentors and others who want to see things done differently, and they are dialing up and producing connections for us that companies are going to be able to tap into,” she says.
Regardless of how you feel about women-only or women-focused entrepreneurship programs like WIM, the group is of the mindset that, when it comes to fostering entrepreneurship, the more programs, the better.
“Diversity leads to better decision-making,” Hoey says. “With the state the economy is in, we need more people coming up with good ideas to get us out of this mess, and we need to look bigger and broader in terms of where ideas are coming from.”
WIM says that it received hundreds of applications, shortlisted 23, then interviewed 11 finalists. That has been narrowed down to four. The startups will participate in a 3-month program in NYC starting on March 26th, and culminating in a Demo Day in mid-June.
And now, a preview of the new startups: Twain Founders: Roshan Hall and Miao Yun Kuang
Twain delivers “learn to read” interactive storybook apps designed to help parents teach reading skills to their children.
Loudly Founders: Sophia Chou and Foy Savas
Loudly, still stealthy, has this tagline: Stop hiding your phone number, control how people call and text you with Loudly.
Appguppy Founders: Ashwini Nadkarni, Raj Dandage, Anagha Nadkarni
Appguppy is a site that lets users create and distribute a cross-platform mobile app in 5 simple steps, and in less than 5 minutes.
Whadayathink Founders: Emily Dimytosh and Harry Brundage
Whatdaythink delivers multi-location retailers/hospitality real-time guest feedback so they can improve guest experiences.
This post was originally posted at TechCrunch.