Nationally, about 85 percent of venture funding for new startups goes to companies that are run by men. Men also dominate the staffs of technology behemoths like Google and Facebook. To give women a leg up in the industry, two Boulder women teamed up to start an accelerator, offering mentorship and access to capital for businesses that have at least one woman in charge. MergeLane's third class starts next month, and includes three companies from Denver.
MergeLane is one of the few incubators, or funders, directed at women in tech. Its co-founders, Sue Heilbronner and Elizabeth Kraus, initially hesitated to focus their venture on women, but one fact helped change their minds: Research shows that investing in women-owned firms is good for business and yield strong returns.
Lee Mayer was in the first class of companies at MergeLane. She's CEO of Havenly, an online interior design firm based in Denver. Havenly's staff has grown from four to about 40 employees since Mayer and her co-founders participated in MergeLane. She says being a woman is probably one reason she struggled to get her first round of funding.
"Some of that had to do with... I don't look like a lot of the other people raising money here. I'm not in my mid-40s, I'm not a white dude in a hoodie. I'm not white, and I don't ever wear hoodies. Ever," Mayer says.
Heilbronner spoke with Colorado Matters host Andrea Dukakis about opportunities for women in technology in Colorado and what she looks for when investing in a new business.
Three Denver companies participating in the next round of MergeLane:
- Helper Helper: A software as a service platform for high schools and colleges to track student-athlete volunteer hours.
- Hired on Demand: A marketplace for construction companies and commercial developers to staff commercial construction projects with available, vetted subcontractors on demand.
- RecoveryWarriors: A digital content platform, community, and eventually app to boost the emotional intelligence and resilience of people struggling with depression, anxiety and eating disorders.