New Ventures, Pitches, and SJSU

Last week I wandered over to SJSU to listen to their panel on “The Entrepreneurial Experience: what starts up start ups?” as part of their gearing up for their Neat Ideas Fair. One of the panelist, Derinda Gaumond, workit.com founder (a business events calendar) is also a FWE member, and I and others wanted to cheer her on.

I’m actually quite familiar with the SJSU College of Business business plan competition, since I was a volunteer last year and saw a lot of interesting posters and heard some fun student pitches. I’m pleased they’re doing it again.

Last year’s SJSU New Ventures Fair pitch competition was quite interesting, since you can be more open to ideas and more forgiving of mistakes when presented by someone young and inexperienced.

Progressive Venture Dinner for Women Entrepreneurs

Last spring I was having coffee with a business journalist in Palo Alto, and we wandered onto the topic of why women find it hard to obtain institutional investment, how difficult it is for women to be taken seriously, and finally, how not “looking like them” can preclude consideration of a candidate company, because it’s easier to talk to people you relate to like yourself. So, what do we do about it to “level the playing field”?

The Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE) Venture Dinner upcoming in Newport Beach, CA is one of the very few opportunities for women to pitch their companies to investment, with FWE-provided infrastructure and bootcamp. In contrast to other venture forums such as Art of the Start (sponsored by Garage Ventures), this is a venue where women are presenters, organizers, and judges, and where being a woman doesn’t mean you’re virtually standing alone.

Denali, Space, and other Challenges for Women

While I’ve been talking to middle-school girls about physics and astronomy and the wonders of space, my sister-in-law has been taking up another challenge in a different space – climbing Denali in Alaska. I just got the word from my brother Greg Messner on her accomplishment today:

“SPECIAL NEWS FLASH!!!!! 3:25PM. The team tried Sat but encountered a storm at 19,000 feet and were unable to Summit and were turned back. They tried again on Sunday and Matt, Steve, Scott and a girl named Nicky [Messner] were able to reach the summit. They are now back at Camp 5 resting before heading down the mountain. They should be in Talkeetna in 2-3 days.”

So girls are doing simply everything these days. Way to go, Nicky!

Paternalism and Corporate America

Mike Cassidy of the Merc wrote a thoughtful piece about how companies need to be “taking care” of their workers better in these tough economic times. Now, I have no problem with fairness as both an employer and employee, and I think workplaces are far too riddled with unfairness, petty jealosies, back-office politics, and ego, and too little thought is taken to treating everyone in the business with professionalism and respect.

Mike’s underlying motive for suggesting this is a noble one – “To me the current situation is more like business are prepared to drag their employees out in the courtyard and shoot them when they no longer need them. I think a few steps back to the days when employees were valued as a company asset wouldn’t be so bad.”

Google, Tech, and Dinner

Last week I attended the It’s Never Too Late: Careers in Computer Science gabfest at Google’s main campus organized by the newly renamed Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (aka Systers). Google was in high-paranoia mode, given their pending IPO, but I wasn’t there to hear about the rightness of Dutch auctions or the Securities Act of 1933. I was there to hear about women in technology and sample their famous conference snacks – not in that order.

“According to the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau” stated the introduction to the event, “high-paying occupations for computer workers and IT specialists are projected to have some of the steepest gains over the next several years.” This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – tech always needs to innovate. However, they go on to say that “Despite the doom and gloom headlines about outsourcing, prospects for meaningful jobs in these fields is bright.”

“Doom and gloom” is right – it sure doesn’t look good for tech people right now. Karl Schoenberger wrote about a steep decline in CS majors several months back in the Merc, and I wrote a lead business page article last year for the San Francisco Chronicle while attending Anita Borg’s memorial service, Paving the Way for ‘Systers’, which explored the declining numbers of women in technology, especially at the managerial level. “The numbers from Berkeley of the 1980s indicate that our technology workforce should have a considerable number of women in management and CTO positions by now” I wrote in September of 2003. “Where have all the women in technology gone?”

Auctions and Women Entrepreneurs

Last week I was one of the many busy volunteers who helped pull-off the once-a-year Forum for Women Entrepreneurs auction and fundraising dinner in Palo Alto. I was in charge of the “for the family” items – things like hand-knit afghans, photography sessions, and crafts projects. Got a lot of VCs and lawyers I know to “bid up” – I wasn’t satisfied until I got at least double the “suggested list price”. More fun than a term sheet, since there isn’t any triple liquidation preference on a scrapbook – or maybe they just haven’t thought of that yet.

Susan Hailey, FWE CEO, is a real kick – fun, sharp, and quick-witted. I met her at a Buck’s lunch in Woodside, and was impressed at how she’d taken a pretty much bankrupt organization that had lost direction after the bubble burst and suffused it with purpose and cash. You’ve got to have a lot of confidence to inspire confidence in others, and she has all that and more.

So, what were the real neat items that the VCs bought?