Jagemann has found success with her businesses; she sold the accounts from her first company — an online office supply business — but retained the software to found her second. But she’s a relative rarity in the technology startup industry, where men lead many of the closely watched and rapidly growing businesses.
At the Entrepreneur Center of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, fewer than one-fifth of the companies selected for its business planning course had a woman within its leadership. A slightly higher percentage of the companies chosen to seek angel funding in the past 18 months through a program run by the center were woman-led, according to Kristin D’Amore, the center’s director.
Elizabeth Thorp launched Poshbrood.com, a travel site focused on upscale family travel, about a year ago. Though she has been adding to the site and is now beginning to monetize it, she said she has faced sexism. After informally pitching her idea to one venture capitalist, he told her only that her site was “cute,” and that he’d send it to his wife, Thorp said.
“I do think there is kind of a guys club,” she said of the investor world. Poshbrood has not received venture capital backing.
Many in the industry say there are multiple reasons that women are underrepresented. Some point to the low number of women in technology fields.
“I think it starts early,” said Nancy Lamberton, president-elect at Women in Technology. “How do we get more girls in middle school and high school to see the opportunities and possibility in the technology field?”
Even women who work in technology or engineering fields may not start their own businesses. Elana Fine, the director of venture investments at the Dingman Center, said entrepreneurship remains a male-dominated world.
“The path to building a business isn’t as clear,” said Fine, who said that when women do launch startups, they often turn to lifestyle businesses — those that solve a problem or sell a product related to running a home or raising children.
Jagemann said she benefited from relationships with lawyers and investors that she established while working at entrepreneurial companies before striking out on her own.
“You really do need to know somebody,” Jagemann said of getting a company off the ground.
Still, plenty of young women are jumping into the hot field. Mili Mittal spent more than three years at the Corporate Executive Board before going to business school in hopes of starting a new business.
She and her co-founder, Katie Rinderknecht, came up with the idea for myChef while MBA students. The site, which collects data on users’ tastes and cooking skills to recommend recipes, drew on their own experiences living among 20-somethings who had advanced palates but had never learned to cook.