On the 22 floor of a mid-town high rise, Shala Burroughs sits at long table at Grind Spaces, a members-only office space just steps from bustling Time Square. As the Executive Director of Women Innovate Mobile, a startup accelerator committed to investing in mobile-first female-led startups, Burroughs spends her days connecting with entrepreneurs and investors, as part of a growing trend in New York City to make funding more accessible to female entrepreneurs.
“We’ve hit a critical mass of women who are dedicated to women obtaining investment,” said Burroughs. “It’s kind of like being taken into a jet stream.”
This jet stream, places New York City as first in the nation for the highest percentage of female-led businesses. Startup Genome reports that in New York City 18 percent of startups are founded by women, while in Silicon Valley the number is a mere 10 percent. Attributed to the city’s diverse array of industries and a cohort of female professional willing to both invest and mentor, the city has become a preferable location for female-led startups.
In New York City where the startup scene is smaller and younger, entering the world of entrepreneurialism is less scary, says Angela Lee, founder of 37 Angels, an investment firm that funds a sundry of both male and female-led ventures.
Alongside the push to connect female entrepreneurs with investors, the city’s diverse number of industries creates a hospitable environment for female entrepreneurs.
If you’re making semiconductors or creating a social network, then Silicon Valley is the place to be, says Cynthia Schames, founder of the ecommerce site Abbey Post. But if you are pitching a project related to one of the multitude of businesses in the city – fashion, food or entertainment – then New York City is the spot.
Together with a multitude of business sectors, the city is also host to a number of organizations, such as Girls Who Code and Women Develop It, which encourage both professional women and young girls to take an interest in the tech field and entrepreneurialism. Women in tech are even popping up on the city’s payroll. In 2011, Rachel Haot became the city’s first chief digital officer, while Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, recently ran for New York City Public Advocate.
Though New York City’s environment is strikingly more optimistic than other ecosystems in the country, the number of female-led startups still falls drastically short of what investors and entrepreneurs wish to achieve. Even in a diverse and entrepreneurial-friendly city, the numbers on a whole reveal a larger systemic problem in both the atmosphere and funding of tech startups.
“I feel like New York is ages ahead of most other places,” said Nathalie Molina Nino who founded her first dotcom as the age of 21 and who is currently starting a female entrepreneurship program at Barnard College.
“As soon as you realize that New York is so much better than other cities,” said Nino. “Then you look at it in the larger framework and it’s still pretty pathetic.”
Regardless of gender, funding is a challenge says Burroughs. There is no denying that obtaining investors is more difficult for women then for men. Less than ten percent of venture capitalists are women reports the Diana Project, while only 13 percent of angel investors are female says Lee.
The lack of women, in any city, sitting on the investor-side of deals is a problem. “Part of it is just the reality of investors investing in things that are familiar,” said Nino. “It’s a hard world to break into.”