ArdentCause: Women on the Verge
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9 percent of all salaries paid to U.S. residents. Even during the 2008-2009 downturn, public charities reported $2.6 trillion dollars in total assets, Norton-Schock says. At the height of the recession, charitable contributions by individuals, foundations, and corporations slowed down, but nevertheless reached almost $304 billion. More than $227 billion of those contributions came from individuals across all walks of life. In Michigan, the nonprofit industry is the fourth largest sector in terms of employment, with over 47,000 organizations. Despite families watching their money more closely than ever, more than 83 percent of Michigan residents made a contribution to charity in 2010.
ArdentCause released the first iteration of CauseEffectz last spring, and the startup plans to continue refining it. In order to ensure that the software remains user-friendly, Bayer and Norton-Schock employ what they call the “Rosemary’s Mother Factor.” If Bayer’s less-than-tech-savvy mom can navigate through the product with ease, it has passed the “mother factor” test. That user-friendliness is part of what has made ardentCause a success—Bayer and Norton-Schock say they have 100 clients signed up to use CauseEffectz so far, and feel confident about the company’s future.
There were days, however, when Bayer worried her vision wouldn’t come to fruition in part, she says, because of a community of entrepreneurs that didn’t always feel inclusive. Bayer says the abundance of business-plan competitions in metro Detroit might be good for individuals, but it harms the spirit of collaboration.
“The contest thing is a very male approach,” Bayer points out. “It’s a style thing that’s just irritating.”
In fact, there is now national data that suggests a more collaborative, or, for lack of a better term, female (OK, I’m biased) approach to entrepreneurship might be the very thing that Michigan is missing.
Enter Sharon Vosmek, the CEO of Astia, a global nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that advocates for women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, fueling innovation and driving economic growth. She estimates that six million jobs could be created nationally in five years if women had more access to capital.
With that goal in mind, Astia is set to launch a three-year initiative in Michigan with Inforum, an advocacy group for professional women, that will take 25 women entrepreneurs and nurture their startups to viability by both building out the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and offering participating entrepreneurs access to Astia’s global network of business mentors.
The challenge at hand, Vosmek says, is getting men and women into the same business networks—a challenge that Vosmek says manifests itself both societally and internally. “It’s critical that men and women are peers,” Vosmek says. “Investors tend to invest in teams, and the reality is that most investors are men. That societal hurdle becomes extremely poignant for companies led by women that are trying to raise capital. Too many women are opting out of high-growth entrepreneurship because they’re self-assessing differently than men.”
By integrating men’s and women’s business networks, Vosmek says they’ll learn how one another perceives and articulates success and failure. Vosmek says that the hard data backing the Michigan initiative elevates it from a feel-good program to one that makes good economic sense.
“Research shows group intelligence correlates to innovation, and group intelligence is directly affected by how many women are on the team,” Vosmek says. “How does the group intuit each other, understand each other, and dialogue? Women are actually needed for a business to stay competitive.”
That sentiment is echoed by Bayer. “When you’re starting a company—especially a tech company—I wish we could work together more and share those limited resources.”
“We’re always looking for a magic tool to create jobs,” Vosmek says. “But if we focus on ensuring women can fully participate, that will pay off more than anything.”