Best Young Entrepreneurs of Tech

Heroes image

BusinessWeek has a special report out now on the Best Young Entrepreneurs of Tech. The report includes several features that look at groups of young technology innovators: Twentysomething Entrepreneurs, Tech's Next Gen: the Best and Brightest, Under-30, Cutting Edge, and Academia's Brightest Stars.

Guess what?  Of the more than 45 young people profiled in this report, only three are women.  The rest are men, or teams of men, and only a few of these are men of color.

The three women featured certainly deserve their recognition: Sandy Jen and Elaine Wherry are co-founders of the web-based, instant-messaging site, meebo (NCWIT interviewed Elaine for our Entrepreneurial Heroes series); and Christina Jones is a Harvard MBA grad and former software entrepreneur whose new company provides innovative fertility options for freezing eggs.

Interestingly, the article on under-30 entrepreneurs asked them what advice they would give to young, would-be entrepreneurs.  Here's a sampling of what they said:

Surround yourself with smart people.

Find a niche in the industry.

Take risks.

Love what you're doing.

Be patient. 

All of this advice seeems pretty gender neutral, right?

Let's take a look at some other numbers.  According to the Center for Women's Business Research, women-owned businesses account for 55 percent of new startups.  The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that women hold more than half of all professional occupations in the U.S. workforce. Yet these same two sources also tell us that women represent less than 27 percent of the IT workforce, and that women start fewer than 5 percent of IT companies.  From these numbers, we can conclude that women are starting businesses, and they're contributing to the workforce.  But they're not doing it in tech. Why?

An NCWIT literature review on entrepreneurism and gender, sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation, found that there is no conclusive research that gender is a factor in the success of entrepreneurs. If gender differences do exist, they may be a product of differences in education and experience, effective business networks, and access to financing.

Why does it matter whether women become IT innovators? A growing body of research tells us that women's scarcity in innovative professions has potentially negative impacts on innovation itself: an NCWIT study on patenting found that patents created by mixed-gender teams of both men and women are more highly cited, for example; and a recent London Business School report found that work teams comprised of equal numbers of men and women were more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge, and fulfill tasks.

Notably, BusinessWeek's cover story, which ranks America's 50 most innovative companies and discusses what sets them apart, quotes Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as saying that "scarcity can be pretty good at prompting new ideas.

"Constraints" he says, "drive innovation."

That old aphorism about neccessity being the mother of invention does say mother, not father, mind you.  Perhaps as we recognize innovation as the driver of economic growth and competitiveness in a global market, the need for increased technology innovation will give way to increased demand for, and participation by, women.