Looking beyond the fog, finding wisdom and innovation on stage at Propelify

By Loralyn Mears PhD Loralyn Mears PhD has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on October 3, 2019

A focus on women in tech

Oh, what a difference a day makes! Yesterday was a sunny, 89°F day in New Jersey. Today, here we are, hovering around 50°F in the rain and fog on the pier in Hoboken, NJ. Had an entrepreneur selected today to sell umbrellas, rain ponchos, and wellies, s/he or they would have made a killing. The weather and mud did not stop those who were determined to learn. Many came to hear from the women in tech and they did not disappoint. Grit Daily was on the scene.

Propelify kicked off with Governor Murphy

Aaron Price and his team at the NJ Tech Council delivered the wisdom and innovation at Propelify 2019 as promised for this techevent, now in its 4th year. NJ Governor Phil Murphy opened with comments about how NJ was the epicenter of technology innovation long before there was a Silicon Valley. He echoed his commitment to continue to propel new businesses and breakthrough ideas forward through programs such as NJ Ignite.

Gov Murphy reiterated how NJ has three critical components (location, infrastructure, and talent) to dominate the innovation economy. He referenced the legislation he signed on Aug 8, 2019, denoting The Innovation District Designation Program redevelopment effort to facilitate greater collaboration amongst government offices, private enterprises, and higher education institutions. No specific effort has yet been announced for the support of women in tech.

Women should lean out not in

Marissa Orr, the author of the book, Lean Out, was interviewed in a fireside chat by an angel investor, Karen Cahn, co-founder of iFund Women. The author claimed that women are obsessed with success and competition. Orr suggests that women should measure progress based on a blended assessment of flexibility and opportunity versus solely on salary. She felt that only a small percentage of America’s women, namely an elite group of women in tech at the top of the field, was spurring the national conversation, but it was drowning out the voice of the average American woman. So she wrote a book suggesting that every woman should define “success” on her own terms and not be held to anyone else’s definition. “This is the essence of empowerment,” she said.

Angel investors backing women in tech

Numerous studies show that companies with female representation fair better than their all-male counterparts yet funding for women is limited. Cahn co-founded iFund Women with two other women to create an ecosystem designed to buoy and support women-led startups and small businesses.

Marissa Orr & Karen Cahn

iFund Women is highly diverse and offers investments via crowdfunding and corporate sponsors to address the Top 3 problems faced by female entrepreneurs. These include a lack of available monies for early-stage efforts (only 1% of startups advance to a venture capital investment phase); no access to coaches and mentors; and no access to a community of entrepreneurs to learn from. She categorized the women in her portfolio as affluent women in tech who retain their day jobs but are building their dream companies on the side, those who quit corporate America to give it a shot and those who are the “giggers” stringing together a multitude of side-efforts to get something going. “The hustle is real,” said Cahn.

A panel of dynamic Jersey girls

An angel investors panel, facilitated by Tammy Murphy (State of NJ’s First Lady) featured Kathleen Coviello (Director of Tech & Life Sciences of NJEDA), Dr. Miri Park (co-founder and COO Chromis Technologies) and Gina Tedesco, Managing Director of NJ Golden Seeds. The panel lamented the disparity in the lack of funded startups for women in tech versus their male counterparts. Tedesco highlighted how female entrepreneurs, particularly those in NJ, have grit, drive, worked their way up and are ready to help the next generation. Unconscious bias factors into the questions that female entrepreneurs are asked during their pitches. For example, women in tech tend to be evaluated on their performance whereas men are typically assessed based on the potential success of their startups.

Tammy Murphy, Miri Park, Gina Tedesco, and Kathleen Coviello

The panel discussed the importance of the NJ Angel Tax Credit which raises the refundable incentive to 20% and female entrepreneurs can apply the credit to their own investments made into their startups. Golden Seeds was launched in 2004, at a time where less than 3% of Angel money  in the US went to women-led startups. By last year, that number approached 20% but, “That’s still not enough,” according to Tedesco. She added, “The total VC funding split is much more dire. In 2018 all women led ventures raised a paltry 2.2%, gender diverse teams raised 10% which leaves 88% of total venture capital going to all male teams. We can definitely do better by all working together.” She, and the Golden Seeds network, continue to create new opportunities for female entrepreneurs to gain access to mentors, education, and dollars.

On the grounds

Numerous startups were on hand for the Speed Meeting session and pitch competition.

Noteworthy exhibitors who braved the downpour included the New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII), affiliated with NJIT, with its new 12,000 sq ft incubator and educational forum for entrepreneurs. NJII was launched to feature a new business model for innovation which leverages its co-location with NYC, numerous colleges, big pharmas, biotechs, and fintechs.

NPower, a non-profit which launches tech careers and transforms lives informally shared some of its success stories. The multi-state program continues to expand through donations and corporate sponsorships with specialty programs dedicated to women in tech and military veterans.

See you at Propelify 2020!

#letspropel #wearethestorm

By Loralyn Mears PhD Loralyn Mears PhD has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Dr. Loralyn Mears is a Columnist at Grit Daily and a podcast host (The Grit Files, which aims to shine the spotlight on female founders). She is a content marketer, founder of the WORKtech startup, STEERus, specializing in personal and professional development to address gaps in soft skills - communication in particular. In her consultancy practice, she helps clients with content and strategy. Loralyn spent over a decade playing with mosquito DNA, got her PhD, decided she would rather market science than be at the bench and has never looked back. Along the way, she’s wined and dined her way around the globe. She's authored two books, including the 2018 Gold Medal Indie Book award-winning, One Sip At a Time: a Memoir and the hard science thriller, "The Battle for Humanity: How Science Saved Us." 

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