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Innovation & Job News

Philly hosts the world's first top-tier accelerator for women entrepreneurs

In November, Flying Kite brought you the announcement of the latest round of Startup PHL grant and seed-fund recipients, and all of the chosen CEOs were men. DreamIt Ventures’ Archna Sahay was in the audience, and she can tell you that this scene is all too common in the tech and venture capital world.

In October, Sahay was tapped to head a new accelerator at DreamIt Ventures: DreamIt Athena. She says there have been virtual, online-based accelerators or temporary "ad hoc" accelerators dedicated to women with big business dreams, but Athena is the world’s first permanent top-tier accelerator focused especially on women entrepreneurs.

The deadline for Athena’s first round of applications -- which Sahay predicted would draw up to 500 applicants from across the country -- was December 8. A $491,930 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development made the new program possible (there is already enough funding for a second round of the accelerator).

A minimum of four slots will be open for the Philly-based program, which will run from February through May of 2015 at the DreamIt headquarters at Innovation Center @3401 (a collaborative space run by Drexel and the University City Science Center).

Remember that saying about history being written by the winners? Born in India, raised in Virginia, and now a Philly resident with a decade in the finance world under her belt, Sahay has her own twist on that one.

"The future is being determined by those who are funding it," she says, and right now, most of those people are white men.
And there’s nothing wrong with white men, she insists. She appreciates all her colleagues.

"It’s not about dissing anybody. It’s celebrating diversity and celebrating the differences,” she continues. "We also have to recognize that the infrastructure has to be different to support and nurture and grow this diverse talent."

Sahay cites a recent Babson College study finding that in 2013, just 18 percent of all venture capital-funded businesses had a woman on the executive team, and less than three percent of those had a female CEO. And despite this under-representation in venture capital boardrooms, U.S. women are founding businesses at one and a half times the national average. That said, they receive less than 10 percent of the funding, delivering 12 percent more revenue with a third less capital than their male peers.

And, vitally important to Sahay, the study also found that venture capital firms with women partners are three times more likely to invest in women CEOs.

The tech-focused DreamIt Athena accelerator will connect participants to a national slate of mentors, speakers, investors and managers, and offer free workspace at the DreamIt headquarters.

"We’re really trying to get more women on that investing side of the table," explains Sahay. It’s valuable "to see someone [who] looks like you, and maybe is five years ahead of you in the game," and to learn how they achieved success.

"I think that’s really powerful."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Archna Sahay, DreamIt Ventures

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