Battling The Bro Culture Panelists Offer Advice For Overcoming Bias At Startup Scaleup

On paper, the woman had all the makings of a promising startup: She was experienced, had a successful track record and had assembled the right team. But for all her efforts, she couldn’t find people willing to invest in her company.

So entrepreneur Yvonne Campos, a lifelong Pittsburgher who was incredulous that no one was willing to back this woman’s idea, assembled 30 investors into the Next Act Fund and backed what turned out to be a successful venture.

Sometimes supporting women-owned and run enterprises requires creating new channels of support, especially if traditionally male-run venture capitalists aren’t willing to invest in them, she said.

Campos, president of Next Act Fund LLC for women investing in women, spoke as part of JumpStart’s Startup Scaleup program on “Battling the Bro Culture: Being a Woman in the Startup World,” held Tuesday in the Gordon Square Arts District.

More than 100 people packed the standing-room-only Near West Cafe to hear strategies for overcoming gender bias and building credibility with potential investors.

Campos said the Google software engineer’s memo that blamed the gender gap in tech on women’s “neuroticism, higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance” is evidence of the stereotypes that exist everywhere and aren’t unique to Silicon Valley.

Cathy Belk, president of JumpStart and moderator of the panel, said that in an already difficult startup culture that’s overwhelmingly male, it’s easy for men to work with, hire from and invest in their circle of friends — without thinking about who they are leaving out or ways to be more inclusive. She said this is the first of many conversations that JumpStart will be having to encourage investors to think beyond their circles.

Janet Makepeace, a self-described “recovering corporate executive” who started JAR Leadership Coaching, talked about Pipeline Angels, 200 women around the country who invest strictly in women and nonbinary femme entrepreneurs who identify as women. She said the better women are prepared to pitch to investors and know what they need, the better the chances they will succeed.

Lynn-Ann Gries, chief investment officer and venture investor for Early Stage Partners, and a co-founder of JumpStart, is trying to encourage more women in Northeast Ohio to invest in women entrepreneurs.

When one woman in the audience asked how to interest male investors in a product that is geared more for women, Gries said she’s more interested in high-growth, high-potential ideas than whether the startup is run by women or men.

She said she would rather invest in an A team than in a B team with a terrific idea. “At the end of the day, all investors care about is return on investment,” she said. “Tell me how you’re going to grow it, and who you’re going to sell it to.”

When a teacher from Case Western Reserve University asked how to “break down the bro culture,” Campos suggested creating mixed-gender teams of students and inviting more women entrepreneurs to his classroom.

“The only companies that are adding to the workforce right now are entrepreneurial companies,” she said. While larger companies are cutting workers, smaller companies are looking for the capital to grow, expand and hire.

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