Is Boston Becoming a Hub for Female Tech Entrepreneurs? Maybe, and Here’s Why

8/10/10Follow @gthuang

When most people think of the New England tech startup scene, they probably don’t think of a bunch of women. Like most places I’ve visited or lived in, the Boston technology community tends to feel pretty male-dominated. But that might be changing fast.

As my colleague Bruce reported today, a CB Insights demographic survey of startups shows that, among other things, Massachusetts has a much higher proportion of female founders (27 percent) than California (6 percent), New York (7 percent) or the national average (8 percent); and nearly one-third of Massachusetts startups surveyed have all-female founding teams (31 percent).

The survey was based on 165 Internet startups nationwide that received early-stage venture capital during the first half of 2010. (CB Insights is a New York-based data services company that tracks startups and investments, and it explains its survey methodology here.)

It’s not a big sample—and it’s the first time this particular survey has been done—so the results might be a statistical anomaly. But they’re pretty surprising nonetheless. And they led me to seek out a few people in the Web startup community for their reactions.

“I’m as baffled as you. It doesn’t feel that way,” says Jules Pieri, founder and CEO of Daily Grommet, an e-commerce startup based in Lexington, MA, referring to the 27 percent figure for Massachusetts (see chart below). “The environment has a lot to do with it. There has been a huge increase in visibility and connections between female founders…I think having role models is the most central explanation.”

Pieri also notes that the academic environment around Boston might be “a little more egalitarian,” and that it “probably helps retain women who go on to found companies.”

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Gender breakdown of MA Web startup founders

Gender breakdown of Web startup founders nationally

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Others, like Bettina Hein, the founder of Cambridge, MA-based video startup Pixability, are particularly careful about not reading too much into a one-time survey. But, Hein says, if the data hold up over time, she has some speculative reasons for the higher proportion of female founders locally. It might boil down to education, role models, and critical mass, she says.

“Massachusetts has a high educational cluster. Across the last 30 years, women have been catching up with education. In a center with a cluster of highly educated women…once there’s a certain number of women in critical mass, other women see it as socially acceptable to be doing this activity,” Hein says of entrepreneurship. “This is something where, ‘if she can do it, I can do it too.’”

Hein organizes a monthly meeting of women CEOs in the Boston area, called the “She-E-Os.” The member list has been growing and is now approaching 80 female founders or CEOs, she says. In a way, it’s about “creating an ‘old girls club,’ facilitating connections, and learning from each other,” she says.

I pressed Hein a bit on whether the Boston area really has a critical mass of female tech entrepreneurs yet. “I think we’re getting close to that,” she says. It will certainly be interesting to see if the numbers from the CB Insights survey hold up for the rest of this year, and beyond.

Looking at the results so far compared to other states, Hein remains cautious but hopeful. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Massachusetts is slightly ahead,” she says.

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Gender breakdown of Web startup founding teams across states

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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