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Old Boy Network? Forget it. Try the Old Girl Network

Jennifer Fonstad
There's a veritable girls network developing in the valley. First a few anecdotes, and then the latest facts that suggest women are doing quite well -- thank you very much -- on the fund-raising trail.

Last night, a local group, the Women's Technology Cluster, met to award the venture capitalists who made the most efforts to invest in women-led companies.

And for the second year in a row, Jennifer Fonstad, managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson is getting the honors, making her the only person in Silicon Valley to achieve that. So now it is women who are finding the women to invest in.

Amy Vernetti.jpg
Amy Vernetti
Kind of reminds us of our visit two weeks ago to an event held by the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs & Executives, another Silicon Valley group, which announced its new chief executive, Chris Melching, that evening. Turns out, Amy Vernetti (scroll down), of Taylor Winfield did the executive search for Melching and also for the outgoing chief executive, Amy Love.

And while the organization has hundreds of members, it was Vernetti's own network that defined the search. Where did Vernetti turn while searching? Well, to her past contacts, of course, where she landed upon the same woman she'd recruited to a start-up incubation firm, Garage Technology, where Vernetti had worked earlier. Now, of course, the FWE board approved her selection -- so yes, there are checks on this network! -- but point is that insiders dominate this female network, too.

Vernetti, we might add, is pretty tough. She dominates on the basketball court, once giving a black eye to Kleiner Perkins partner Russell Siegelman. She played Division I NCAA basketball player at Saint Mary's College. (We once invited her to the Mercury News' Thursday outdoor basketball session, and she ran circles around us; She prefers 5:30am rough-and-tumble at the Pacific Athletic Club with more cut-throat VC types.)

Here's the latest study suggesting women are making headway, despite the fact that they still participate in fewer numbers than guys do:

Women entrepreneurs outperformed men raising angel investments, according to the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire.

Women-owned ventures account for 8.7 percent of the entrepreneurs seeking angel capital, a low number, as you might expect. But 33 percent of these women entrepreneurs received angel investment in 2005, while the overall rate was only 23 percent, according to the study.

We're not sure how to interpret this. It is unlikely to reflect bias toward women. What it could reflect is that women are more likely to have their act together before going out to raise cash.

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I would guess that the higher percent of funding attained by female entrepreneurs comes from the hard-to-define tendency that socially, women tend to be more humble/less confident about their own ideas - and that if an idea in the female visionary?s mind is at the level of being fund-worthy, than it's probably more thought-out than the male counterpart.

As a recently funded female entrepreneur, I saw this concept in action. I spent years working for male entrepreneurs who had some pretty bad ideas, but their confidence won support. It took recognizing how much confidence and 'balls' matter (along with very well planned and thought-out product demos) that enabled me to go the entrepreneur?s route.

On the line of 'sexism' in the start-up space - we must recognize that if a CEO is 5'3" petite woman with a high pitched voice, she's going to hear some belittling and offensive things that a tall man will not. But this can serve only to make the product stronger. There?s nothing wrong with both sexes borrowing the traits that serve a product well - from women leaders with 'balls' to men that nurture consumers? emotional needs.

Traditionally female traits are now the most sought after themes in the start-up space - social networking, chatting, shopping, talking, relating, making photo albums, mixed tapes, you name it....who knows, soon it maybe more credible if an interactive product is conceived in the female mind.

Ariel McNichol on April 5, 2006 11:10 AM
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