I had the great privilege recently to talk with Nora Poggi, director of the documentary “She Started It,” which follows the journeys of a few young women entrepreneurs trying to start businesses in Silicon Valley.
The film is eye-opening in many respects, and I was particularly struck by how persistent some of the women are in the face of several obstacles. Talking with Nora deepened my appreciation of the film, especially because it shines a light on a very crucial issue, as you’ll see in our Q&A below.
Q: What inspired you to make this film, and what is the goal?
A: We (with co-director & producer Insiyah Saeed) wanted to focus on tech entrepreneurship in particular because tech is a trillion-dollar industry creating products that are now shaping our everyday lives; and — for women to be left out of this industry — it seems we are losing out on a lot of potential and value that could be created. The statistics are staggering: According to a Babson College study, a mere 2.7% of venture capital-funded companies have a woman CEO, and 96% of venture capitalists are men, who control the majority of the money going into startups.
Our goal is to reach 1 million people with this film in 2018 and show women and girls that if you fall, you can get back up. We want women and girls who will see the film to know that they can take risks, that failure is OK, and that it is worth trying something you are passionate about.
What is the best lesson you learned while working on the film?
Grit, resilience, and persistence are key to success — it’s all about never giving up. That entrepreneurial mindset, which is solution-focused and risk-friendly, should be taught everywhere. Which does not mean you can’t pivot or change ideas, but building up that resilience muscle (which means the ability to recover from setbacks) is crucial no matter what career you get into.
How do you think women can avoid or overcome what you call the “confidence gap”?
Lack of confidence is something that many women struggle with, and a lot of women entrepreneurs don’t promote themselves enough. They don’t think they are ready to pitch on stage, or they don’t ask for help. However, they should not have to “act like a man” to be taken seriously, and there is now a push for a more balanced view of entrepreneurship. It is going to take a lot of diversifying of the investment world and a big cultural shift for women to be able to be themselves while pitching their businesses and still raise the same amounts as men without the same “bravado” attitude.
Our advice to women entrepreneurs would be to not be scared of asking for what they deserve and to be confident in their own skin and take risks. Find out what your weakness is and work on it. If it’s public speaking, take a class. If you don’t know much about finance or company structure, start reading about it. It is also crucial to sustain strong relationships with mentors.
What can men allies do to better support women, especially women who are starting businesses?
There is still a lot to be done. The issue is multi-layered and requires a global strategy encompassing public policy, education, culture, media, popular culture, and more. Creating coding and entrepreneurship programs for girls, demanding new policies (such as pushing for computer science education in the global school system), developing mentorship and providing more role models, building efficient company training programs to deflect unconscious biases, training more women investors, and getting more dollars into women-led startups — these are all crucial elements.
Men in general can start by being allies to their female colleagues, by actively listening, supporting, and promoting women around them. They should also advocate for women and people of color to have access to leadership roles within the company and make sure the decision-makers are coming from more diverse backgrounds.
Whether an enterprising woman wants to start a tech company or a local bakery, what tip would you give her?
Just start! Don’t overthink it, take that first step — whether it’s learning how to code, getting your feet wet with an internship, or getting feedback on your prototype or idea. As Stacey Ferreira, one of our main characters, says, “Just start somewhere and start today.”
Watch the trailer for “She Started It.”
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