Kristen Cooper: How to keep women founders, investors from leaving

Significant cultural and legal changes in Indiana this year have made it more difficult for women to start up, scale up, retain and attract female talent.

The combination of attacking reproductive rights on Sept. 15 and banning transgender girls from playing girls sports on May 24 has created an increasingly inhospitable climate for women in this state.

Combined with very little state and private investment going into women-owned businesses, many women are questioning whether Indiana really values them.

As a woman and member of the LGBTQ community, I have not always felt safe and equal in the Indiana workplace—so much so that in 2014 I founded The Startup Ladies to address the rampant sexism and gender disparity in the startup space.

In an effort to educate more women founders on viable ideas for scalable companies, we created a series called Startup Study Hall that has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs go from idea to market to growth. We also teach individuals (with the financial capacity to invest $5,000+) how to invest in startups and then connect them with investor-ready female founders in Startup Investing 101.

While our women founders have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from our investor members, those numbers don’t compare to the amount of money being invested in our male counterparts. If you are a regular reader of the #IBJtech newsletter, then you know that men consistently receive significantly more investment than women in this state.

Indiana is at a pivotal moment. If the corporate community and the state are serious about creating and sustaining a more equitable business environment that supports women, it needs to address the dual challenges of investment and gender equity.

While addressing gender inequity is complex, solutions to providing the resources that women founders need are straightforward:

 Executives from DEI focused companies and universities such as Delta Faucet Co., RSM, Bose McKinney and Evans, JacksonSky, Found Search Marketing, FullStack PEO, Lessonly, Taft, IU Kelley, and Purdue consistently do a great job of supporting women founders. They sponsor and collaborate on programming, mentor and make meaningful introductions. We could use more support from enterprise level companies.

 Founders who have exited can advise women founders, champion their product or service and make meaningful introductions to prospective investors.

 Individuals who understand the importance of supporting women founders—and have the income to make investments—can write checks to invest in women.

Indiana needs to allocate investment dollars specifically allocated for women similarly to how states like New York created a Minority and Women-Owned Business Investment Fund. Additionally, the state needs to serve as a lead investor more frequently to encourage more investors to come to the table.

If both the state and individual funders collectively invested millions of dollars into women-owned businesses, this support would significantly help us improve the climate for female entrepreneurship here in Indiana. However, the actions of legislators have made this work infinitely more difficult.

Statistics show that the highly educated/experienced/networked individuals needed in this state are also likely to be socially progressive. Legislation targeting women’s and LGBTQ+ rights has created a statewide environment that will repel many women and LGBTQ+ professionals as well as individuals with LGBTQ+ children. As research demonstrates, this will make it difficult to attract and retain diverse talent and make it difficult for businesses committed to increasing gender equity in the state.

Already, multiple women in startups have left the state, with more planning to do so. We have to make some significant changes quickly if we don’t want to lose more women.

The Startup Ladies are doing our part to help women thrive in Indiana. In addition to our monthly programming, we will be hosting our inaugural #InvestInWomenFounders Summit from noon to 6 p.m. on Nov. 30 at the Delta Faucet Co. headquarters in Indianapolis. This event is being led by women in an effort to shine a bright light on the women building companies in multiple industries. Our goal is clear. We want to move money into the hands of women founders. If you would like to learn more, please visit TheStartupLadies.org/events.•

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Cooper is founder and CEO of The Startup Ladies.

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One thought on “Kristen Cooper: How to keep women founders, investors from leaving

  1. It is not anti-women to say you can’t kill babies in the name of birth control. It is not anti-women to say making my daughter compete against biological men is wrong. But the biggest woke joke this week is that the Biden Administration is requiring all trans-women born as men to register for the selective service. WHAT the hay is going on? Are we woke or not.

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