StartOut is Breaking the Rainbow Glass Ceiling
Meet the mentoring program helping to put lesbians in the corner office.
Silicon Valley is known throughout the country as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. But when it comes to finding venture capital for those new technology companies, the network of investors is still pretty much a boys’ club. That’s why StartOut.org is unique—it’s committed to fostering business opportunities throughout the lesbian community and is launching its Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program in San Francisco this June.
To learn more, Curve caught up with Marie Trexler, a former investor for Intel Capital and currently a StartOut board member. With upwards of 60 venture investments in her portfolio, Trexler became involved with StartOut after a poignant career change—one that focused less on financial investment and more on investing in the LGBT community. “It was just a really good fit for me,” Trexler says, “because I had been looking for a way to get more involved with the community. Plus, my career had always been about working with entrepreneurs, so I just thought this program was a fantastic idea. It’s a great way to get people together.”
People like Ramona Pierson, the CEO and founder of Pierson Labs, Inc., and the recipient of the Google Innovator Award at the first annual StartOut Awards, which were held in March. Pierson, who has signed on to be a mentor for the program, remembers firsthand what it was like to be a young professional need a guiding voice.
When asked why mentorship is so important for the lesbian community in particular, Pierson explains, “When you look around at women who have started businesses, especially women who have started technology businesses, there are so few. And this isn’t to put down our community, but you see that men have really created these strong communities of support through mentoring each other, but there are so few women who have come together in these professional communities.”
Trexler agrees. “It’s one of the disadvantages that women, regardless of sexuality, have in the world of starting businesses—that they aren’t as networked, that they don’t have that sense of camaraderie. So we thought that would be a great value to try to bring to StartOut. But because a mentorship program takes a lot of resources and time, we wanted to do something very limited and specific, so we could learn what the best way to do it would be.” Much is riding on the success of the pilot program. If the mentoring program proves successful in San Francisco, it will see a second run in New York. In a statement on the Women 2.0 website, Leanne Pittsford—the founder and CEO of StartSomewhere and a StartOut board member—explains that the rewards of the program are twofold. “Helping lesbian entrepreneurs serves the dual goals of building a stronger entrepreneurial community and building a stronger gay community…StartOut is doing that by starting the Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentorship Program. In speaking with lesbian entrepreneurs, it became clear that mentoring was high on the list of needs, and a simple way to provide immediate value to new business owners.”
“We’re doing it to help create more wealth in the community, and to create successful business leaders,” says Trexler. “That’s the endgame of our organization…We’re not just providing coaches, we’re providing a value-added resource.” (startout.org)