Just For Women: Pixability’s Bettina Hein Crafts Boston-Area Network for Female CEOs

5/20/10Follow @xconomy

When Bettina Hein ran a tech company in Europe, about one out of 100 executives she met were women. “It was so exotic for me to be a female entrepreneur in technology,” she says.

The CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Pixability, a startup that makes low-cost marketing videos for businesses, said she was encouraged that there are many more women in leadership roles at Boston-area tech companies. “People say female entrepreneurship is underrepresented here, but this is Disney World for me,” says Hein. (Wade wrote a profile on Hein’s company earlier this week, where he discusses her background in a bit more detail.)

Hein sought to gather the group of women executives regularly to share business insights, and about 18 months ago held the first meeting of a few women CEOs. The series of meet-ups now has between 50 and 60 women on the invite list, but is still early stage and evolving, Hein says. But the group is starting with a catchy name—the She-E-Os. They meet the last Wednesday of every month, alternating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, at restaurants or different women CEOs’ homes.

The group draws a crowd with varying degrees of experience, from serial entrepreneurs who have raised capital and sold companies, to those who are trying their hand at startups for the first time. The gatherings are open to aspiring entrepreneurs working on business plans or “on the cusp of founding,” companies, who hail from schools such as MIT, Harvard, and Babson College, Hein says. The She-E-O attendees represent industries spanning the consumer Web, software, healthcare IT, energy, and life sciences.

Women CEOs don’t necessarily face different business challenges than men, Hein says. “Being an entrepreneur is hard, and any support you can get I think is worthwhile,” Hein says.

“This is just another cluster,” says Hein of the segment of women entrepreneurs in technology. “This is just another way of slicing and dicing it.”

She’s worked to structure the meetings so that they don’t serve as another platform for business pitches to investors, but act as a forum where women can be honest and get advice on the business challenges they face. “We want to make it like a safe place to discuss issues like founder compensation or investor issues,” Hein says. Typically she shies away from inviting investors or service providers, such as consultants or marketers.

Jules Pieri, CEO of Lexington, MA-based e-commerce site Daily Grommet, said the women entrepreneurs she’s run into at the gatherings “don’t waste time” and drop the sales pitch she’s run into at other entrepreneurs’ events. “We’re doing something that’s hard enough as it is, what’s the point of obfuscating?” she asks. “Honesty is an obligation.” She says she also received many congratulations from women in the group she had never met when Daily Grommet said last month it raised $3.4 million in the first installment of a Series A financing.

One benefit of the monthly meet-ups is that it provides an opportunity for less experienced CEOs to get insight and advice from the women who have done it a few times before, Hein says. One such beneficiary is first-time entrepreneur Monika Desai, CEO and co-founder of the stealthy Open Runway, a community-based e-commerce site where users can co-design and purchase customized fashion products.

Desai has been attending the group since the fall, when she started seeking out advisors and resources for her business. Desai is especially looking to the group’s perspective as she prepares to raise venture capital, a game that is usually much more dominated by men. (That may be changing, though. The New England Venture Network, the East Coast’s largest network of young venture capital professionals, recently added Rudina Seseri as its co-chair, who joined existing co-chair Geraldine Alias, meaning the group is now led by two women.)

Serial entrepreneur Beth Marcus says she’s been able to lend her perspective in raising capital to the She-E-O group. But she’s found resources there, too. Though Marcus has experience in running other startups, such as joystick technology company EXOS, which she sold to Microsoft in 1996, she’s looked to the She-E-O group for information on engineers and public relations consultants for her current venture, a stealthy startup called Playsmrt that’s working on making the Internet safer for kids to browse.

“We use each other’s Rolodexes as much as we can,” Marcus says.

Women interested in joining the group can e-mail here.

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