In its ongoing efforts to build a smarter planet, tech heavyweight IBM is teaming with female entrepreneurs to promote women in leadership roles and bring disruptive new innovations to market.
Women make up just over half of the population in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (50.8 percent), and they own 28.8 percent of the nation's businesses. Yet, only 3 percent of tech startups are helmed by women, noted Elizabeth Penson, delivery manager for the IBM Innovation Center in Austin, Texas, in a recent blog post.
IBM wants those figures to climb a lot higher, and there's good reason for the business world to want the same.
"Women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieve 35 percent higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bring in 12 percent higher revenue than male-owned tech companies," according a study cited by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
As a tech hub in its own right, Austin is attracting its fair share of startups. The IBM Innovation Center in Austin helps entrepreneurs leverage IT to produce solutions that help enterprises pounce on new business opportunities, operate more efficiently and engage with consumers more effectively.
Assembling Engaged Entrepreneurs
The Center hosted a panel in May, called Women in Technology: Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Among the topics discussed was avoiding self-sabotage and patterns of behavior that doom potentially lucrative, globally scalable businesses before they have a chance. The panelists' insights helped cement the notion that reward requires risk and getting funding is quite literally a numbers game. One failed attempt clears the path for success down the road. IBM held a similar panel and reception, called the Super Women's Group, during the IBM Innovate 2013 technical summit in June.
Sandy Carter, general manager of Ecosystem Development for IBM and author of the social business guide "Get Bold," took the mic as a speaker at The Women's Toolbox Conference on Oct. 18. During the event, held at Endicott College, in Beverly, Mass., she explored tips and techniques that women can use to create responsive, engaged and indispensable social businesses. Registered attendees received a copy of Carter's book, a free 60-day IBM SmartCloud for Social Business trial and introductions to the heads of local IBM Innovation Centers.
IBM's outreach crosses borders and, in some cases, oceans.
The tech giant's startup accelerator program, IBM Global Entrepreneur, has given innovative women around the world the tools, support and connections to grow their companies and tackle big business challenges. IBM Global Entrepreneurs can participate in SmartCamps, events that blend networking, mentoring and networking to forge business-building connections. For select startups, SmartCamps can pave the way for funding opportunities.
The winner of SmartCamp Dublin, Clear Returns is headed by CEO Vicky Brock, who spent four years on the board of the Digital Analytics Association and earned the distinction of being Google's first non-U.S. official analytics trainer. Clear Returns helps retailers drive profitability by employing cloud-based predictive analytics tools to reduce returns, streamline shipping processes and reduce material waste.
In Britain, return rates of 30 to 40 percent in fashion are putting a lot pressure on shop owners. Globally, the impact is staggering. Last year, returns took $200 billion out of e-tailers' coffers.
Brock recently wrote in The NextWomen Magazine that the SmartCamp victory "helped us gain seed funding to underpin our software development and testing" and her company enjoyed "incredible access to IBM expertise" courtesy of the IBM Global Entrepreneur initiative. At the 2013 Digital Technology Awards, Clear Returns took home the Best New Product Award.
Clear Returns is now providing retailers with insights on how to minimize returns and make their customers happier. "We're now working with High Street and virtual retailers to pick out 'hidden' product return trends," noted Brock. "Managements can then tweak merchandising or supply chains to boost customer satisfaction."
For some retailers, product returns are a good problem to have. Another startup, San Francisco-based geospatial analytics specialist StreetLight Data, a finalist at the 2012 SmartCamp Global Finals, helps merchants find good locations for their brick-and-mortar shops. Headed by CEO and co-founder Laura Schewel, StreetLight Data collects traffic, transportation management systems and location data and applies advanced business intelligence technologies to provide retailers with business-boosting insights.
Schewel credits her company's involvement in SmartCamp as an important step toward sealing some crucial deals. She told IBM that the experience showed her how to "distill the message and the focus of my company down to its essence." She added, "This has been critical in both fundraising AND in our sales process.”
Weza Tele Limited founding partner Hilda Moraa is helping consumer goods distributors in Africa overcome the inefficiencies of manual ordering and systems with her company's mobile-enabled Myorder platform. She expects that her time as an IBM Global Entrepreneur Partner and her company's participation in the recent IBM Mentor Day in Nairobi, Kenya, will help pave the way to a responsive, engaged business landscape at home.
"We believe that through strategic partnerships, mentorship and support e.g. from IBM, the African community is going to be different in many valuable ways using our solution," she recently wrote in a blog post.