Female Founder of the Week (FFoW) is a weekly celebration of the women who are building business in Boston. With this feature, FoundersWire acknowledges the challenges that are unique to women, hails the successes they achieve, and encourages those coming next, so they may learn from these exceptional, undeterred women founders.
SheStarts co-founders, above from left, Nancy Cremins and Liz O’Donnell, have been chosen for the inaugural feature, because not only are they female founders in their own right, they’ve dedicated their resources to being two of the most inspired and powerful advocates this community of female founders could have.
By SHELAGH BRALEY
BOSTON—Meeting the right person at the right time can turn a ripple into a tsunami. Using that logic, SheStarts co-founders Liz O’Donnell and Nancy Cremins are about to turn the tide for women building business in Boston.
“We met over Twitter,” said Cremins in an interview over lunch with FoundersWire. “We were both at an event, and I was live tweeting, and she messaged me, ‘hey, are you here?’ And then we finally met.”
When they did, it was obvious they had big work to accomplish together: the first initiative being SheStarts, a group that “supports the growing pipeline of women founders in Boston,” since its first event in 2014.
It’s definitely an undertaking that has a strong market mandate, with more than 130 people showing what Cremins called “some level of support” on their recently successful Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $15,000 to reach their goal.
What is their goal, exactly?
“We’re here to bust gender bias,” said Cremins simply.
“I think of busting gender bias as the top of a pyramid. And then we say, OK, how do we get there,” continued O’Donnell. She listed events, programming and education, and access to capital as the third piece.
“Then, it’s ‘How can we help sustain and grow? That’s the big issue. We look at the social programming that’s gone on, and we think, until you change the frame of reference, it (bias) doesn’t change,” she said.
The pain they’re addressing has been part of the unspoken startup life for women for more than a decade, with the rise in female founders and women-run startups hitting an all-time high. More than 200 startups with women at the helm have been cataloged in Boston, with countless more building in anonymity. But the fact is that few actually get funded. A 2014 Babson study concluded that fewer than 3 percent of venture-supported companies had a female founder. This same study, however, showed that businesses with women on the executive team were more likely to have higher valuations.
“The idea that it’s a meritocracy, it’s complete and total nonsense,” Cremins said.
“ ‘I’m willing to fund women, but I just don’t find any,’ ” O’Donnell intoned, pretending to be a male investor. “Call it swagger, but there’s a double bind. (As a woman), come in tooting your own horn, and you get knocked down.”
Being different and looking different from the groups you’re pitching, Cremins pointed out: “The very process creates a sense of anxiety,” she said. “The rules of the game weren’t written for you, so you have to navigate a very narrow path.”
“But it relates to: How do we step up to this without alienating men? You invite them in,” O’Donnell said.
The two are perfectly in sync, able to finish each other’s sentences, anecdotes and manifestos. They also share a spectrum of life experience and professional expertise: Cremins is a litigator with tech-focused law firm Gesmer Updegrove, who applies her prowess to solving employment issues and intellectual property disputes, and especially to supporting women-run startups. She is also a longtime board member of the Women’s Bar Association. O’Donnell is an author with a long list of published works, best known for “Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman.” She’s simultaneously developing a social movement addressing the phenomenon of being a “Working Daughter,” balancing life amid the work and challenges of caring for an elderly or failing parent.
“I realized you have to take the lead,” O’Donnell said. “You can’t just talk about why there are no women leaders. You have to stand up. You can’t just write about it and preach about it, when you’re not doing anything about it.”
She gave an example of the female founder’s gambit, illustrating the stereotypical roles women play, and how they create unique challenges for entrepreneurs: “You’re a good daughter, good student, good worker. You take all the notes, clean up the parties, work through all the details. You’re a good wife, a good mother.
“Then you shift to being a founder, and it’s hard to break that mold,” she said.
In Boston, Cremins said, being a female entrepreneur should be an advantage by now.
“Why fit in when you were meant to stand out?”
Shelagh Braley is the editor of FoundersWire. Follow her @FoundersWire on Twitter. FoundersWire is actively seeking submissions for Female Founders of the Week to profile. Please share with any you know, and send inquiries to email@example.com