Women’s Ecosystem: Fish or Mammals?

Version 2

It is important for women to gather and take a high-level look at the world we are building together. Last Thursday, we convened the first Wingpact Luncheon[i] for this purpose. Our discussion topic was, “The Women’s Ecosystem: Where We Are and Where We Are Going.”

In recent years, women have increasingly been stepping into all the roles surrounding entrepreneurs, including investors, mentors, accelerator founders, fund managers, corporate attorneys, service providers, and technologists. We have an opportunity to build our own women-friendly business practices and culture, from the ground up. For example, we already have new models of education customized for women investors, and new financial vehicles creating “collaborative investing” opportunities.

For the Wingpact Luncheon we gathered fourteen smart, high-impact women, each working hard on her own piece of the ecosystem. Our group included Wingpact Founding Partners, startup founders, experienced investors, Wingpact community members, new angel investors, and people involved in the ecosystem for many years. We took some time to move to a higher view, see how our pieces fit together, and where there are gaps, overlaps, or tensions.

Early on in our lively discussion an interesting metaphor emerged: a comparison between fish and mammals[ii]. When fish propagate, they spray out millions of eggs into the ocean, knowing only a few will survive. Mammals, on the other hand, have few offspring, and carefully nurture each to adulthood.

One way this metaphor plays out is how we nurture our companies. We talked about the importance of angel investors holding capital back for follow-on rounds for our investees. There is a concept in the wider startup community of “spray and pray” – investing in a lot of companies, with no particular attachment to any of them, knowing a few will succeed. A more effective approach for investors may be to choose our companies carefully, and plan to be there for the long term to nurture them. We even made a biological comparison – with “spray and pray” being a male biological model, and nurturing a few being a more feminine tendency. Of course, these are gross generalizations. Still, it does give us a framework to discuss how we want to do business. There is an opportunity to bring more of the feminine attention to long-term nurturing into the ecosystem, with perhaps a benefit to all.

Another discussion point was our sense that there is still a need to encourage women to become entrepreneurs. Anecdotally, we see younger women more hesitant to start companies than men, even with equal or greater qualifications. We also have data showing that women are currently starting companies at a faster rate than men, and at a later point in our careers. This raises questions about how our ideal ecosystem would look. Do we want women to jump into the startup game faster and more often, and in a pattern more like men? Or is it advantageous for us to gain more corporate experience first, as our instinct often leads us to? Also, if we are more like mammals and want to nurture fewer companies for the longer term, how would we support a greater number of young women entrepreneurs? How wide do we want to make the funnel for companies, and how quickly do we want to narrow it? What is the best way to create an environment where every woman has opportunity to pursue her dreams?

We discussed the currently exciting but sometimes overwhelming number of organizations and projects springing up to support women entrepreneurs and investors. Perhaps we are in a fish-like spawning stage right now in regards to resources for women. What can we do to leverage each other’s work, to make sure we are not duplicating efforts, and that we are collaborating, with each of our puzzle pieces fitting together to create a smooth and coherent scene? How can we all best use our limited time and resources to support the core values that these proliferating groups represent?

Predictably, our discussion identified more questions than answers. We will hold these important questions in mind as we move forward with our work, and we can use them as a framework when building collaborations.

I have been invited by Hera Fund to lead a follow-on discussion this Thursday November 18 at 4:00PST. It will be a Google hangout, so anyone can join – we would love to have your participation.

Another way to participate is to leave comments on this post. Also, let me know through the comments if you would like me to facilitate a discussion with your group. These discussions need to be plentiful, ongoing, and global.

Please share this post to any audience who may have insights to add to our early conversations about creating business culture by and for women.

We are honored to have so many amazing women (and men) as part of the Wingpact community. We know you are committed to creating a better world, one that furthers the Wingpact vision of all people having full access to the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

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[i] We are very grateful to First Republic Bank, our sponsor for this event.
[ii] Thanks to Una Ryan, Founder of ULUX LLC, for the fish and mammals metaphor.

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One Response to Women’s Ecosystem: Fish or Mammals?

  1. Pingback: Portfolia / Women’s Ecosystem: Fish or Mammals?

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