A Challenge to Accelerators: Fund 33% Women Founders

Barnard College recently issued a challenge to the accelerators, incubators, and investors of the world: make sure one out of every three startups you fund has a woman founder.

Called the Athena Pledge, this initiative is designed to support women in entrepreneurship and help move us toward a society of more equal participation. In particular, the pledge requires that:

  • By January 2017, 33% of the companies they accept have a female founder (with equity) and women in advisory or senior management positions.
  • Signers submit their demographic statistics to Barnard, to be made public.

The pledge has already been signed by Sean Percival, partner at 500 Startups; Joanne Wilson, angel investor at Gotham Gal Ventures; Eric Grimmelmann, president and CEO of the New York Technology Council; Adam Quinton, partner at Lucas Point Ventures; Jeanne Sullivan, founder of StarVest Partners; and the venture capital firm Bowery Capital.

This challenge was issued by Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Columbia University. Their Entrepreneurs@Athena program provides resources and research to increase opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

They want the Athena Pledge to be more than a quota, but a commitment to make the entrepreneurial scene more welcoming to women entrepreneurs. Other quotas for women, like some countries’ quotas for female corporate board members, have had mixed results. (For example, almost 70% of Norway’s public companies went private rather than comply with a 40% female-board-member quota.)

Most people agree that quotas aren’t the final answer, but they may be part of the way we solve the problem.

Image credit: Flickr / Lemsipmatt, 2013 / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Written by:
Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.
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