Amazon’s Latest Grant Will Help Increase the Number of Women in Tech

Amazon is helping fund 24 women in the United Kingdom who are interested in tech. The company launched Amazon Amplify, a series of initiatives aimed at assisting underrepresented groups in entering the tech industry.

As part of the initiative, Amazon U.K. is also launching Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary, in celebration of International Women’s Day. The grant will fund 24 women, and each participant will receive £130,000 (about $170,000) a year to fund their startup.

“Diversity fosters greater innovation and helps raise the bar for customers, and having a diverse workforce is also just the right thing to do,” Fiona McDonnell, Director of Consumer Retail at Amazon, said in a statement. McDonnell also serves as chair of the cross-industry Women in Innovation Advisory Committee.

The U.K.’s tech industry has been on a steady climb. According to a report by Tech Nation, 25 percent of the world’s entrepreneurs say that they have two or more relationships in London. From 2014 to 2017, employment in the U.K.’s digital tech sector rose 13.2 percent; however, only 19 percent of workers are women.

Amazon Amplify’s greater goal is to increase the recruitment and retention of female Amazon employees. In addition to the Women in Innovation Bursary, Amazon is offering a degree-apprenticeship program, with public tours and workshops for children.

CES Revokes Innovation Award For A Sex Tech, Women’s Health Startup

Lora DiCarlo, a women-focused sex-tech company, was supposed to receive an innovation award at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), stripped the company of its award after determining that the company’s Osé robot did not fit into any of the award’s product categories.

Lora DiCarlo’s Osé is a hands-free, micro-robotic technology that mimics all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue, and fingers. 

“The product referenced does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program,” Samantha Doherty, CTA spokeswoman said. “CES does not have a category for sex toys. CTA had communicated this position to Lora DiCarlo nearly two months ago and we have apologized to them for our mistake.”

The CTA also cited its rules stating, “Entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified.”

Lora DiCarlo has also been prohibited from presenting on the floor of CES. In past conventions, robot sex dolls and virtual reality porn showcases have been acceptable enough to present at CES.

“Men’s sexuality is allowed to be explicit with a literal sex robot in the shape of an unrealistically proportioned woman and VR porn in point of pride along the aisle,” Lora Haddock, founder and CEO of Lora DiCarlo, said in a post on the company’s website. “Female sexuality, on the other hand, is heavily muted if not outrighted banned. You cannot pretend to be unbiased if you allow a sex robot for men but not a vagina-focused robotic massager for blended orgasm.”

Haddock called it “insulting and ridiculous” that her company’s biomimicry device was ineligible for the Robotics and Drone category.

Techstars and digitalundivided Partner to Support Women-led Startups

digitalundivided—an entrepreneurship incubator for Black and Latinx women founders—just announced its partnership with accelerator program, Techstars, to increase support for women entrepreneurs.

The new partnership will help increase access for women of color to resources in the Techstar network including Techstars startup accelerators, Techstars Startup Weekends, and Techstars Startup Weeks, according to Hypepotamus.

“This year Techstars has expanded our focus on diversity and inclusion, and our partnership with digitalundivided is one of the ways we will achieve on that commitment,” said Jason Thompson, VP of diversity and inclusion at Techstars, in a company blog post. “We are thrilled to work with digitalundivided to further our engagement with Black and LatinX women entrepreneurs and provide the Techstars network as a resource to support their growth and success.”

The ProjectDiane2018 released by digitalundivided reported Black women-led startups have raised $289 million in venture capital funding since 2009.

Latinx-owned startups led by women raised a total of $1.36 billion in venture capital funding, accounting for 0.32 percent of venture funding raised since 2009, according to the new ProjectDiane2018: Latinx report.

The partnership was announced at digitalundivided’s BIG incubator Demo Day, the culmination of a 30-week startup incubator program for up to 20 startups led by Black and Latinx women. The Atlanta-based incubator program also announced plans to launch a new location in Newark, NJ.

Applications for both locations are currently being accepted. Apply here.

Mixtroz Raises $1M in Seed Funding

Mixtroz, a platform founded by a mother-daughter tech duo, raised $1 million in seed funding, becoming one of only 40 Black female founders to hit this fundraising mark.

Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons created Mixtroz in 2014 to help users navigate networking events and drive engagement for authentic connection. The funding will help the company hire more members to support the growth of its core team.

“Achieving this milestone is a huge success for us, especially considering we are black, female, non-technical tech founders,” said Kerry Schrader, Mixtroz co-founder, and CEO.

They won the Rise of the Rest pitch competition in May 2018 in Birmingham—where the startup is based— securing a $100,000 investment.

“As a startup, Birmingham has proved to be a perfect home base for us. They have figured out how civic, corporate and tech ecosystems must come together to breed success, and we attribute a lot of our accomplishments to the supportive business community here,” said Schrader in a statement to AfroTech.

The founders attribute their milestone to the support of Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator, Bronze Valley, a Birmingham-based fund and online resource.

Mixtroz not only leverages app-based technology to drive attendees to events but also allows hosts to collect real-time data on interactions.

“People attend events to make valuable connections,” said Ashlee Ammons, Mixtroz co-founder and COO. “The attendees are guaranteed to meet people of interest at events, and the organizers and sponsors can gather valuable information about the event participants in real time.”

The platform has hosted clients including the Nashville Mayor’s Office, Deloitte, Vanderbilt, Pinnacle, and Georgia Tech.

“The fact that we were able to acquire prestigious clients clearly shows that there is a real need for our product,” said Ammons. “Mixtroz is a way to make the most of your time when you have decided to make the effort to leave the house and attend an event.”

Promise Founder Phaedra Lamkins is Tackling the Prison System Head On

As incarceration rates continue to climb, one startup is working to re-assimilate former prisoners back into society. Founded in San Francisco, Promise uses apps, text messages and a data platform to help prevent overcrowding in jails. The company works with cities and governments to release non-violent offenders from their bail obligations and provides a way for individuals to keep up with their court dates.

Promise Co-Founder Phaedra Lamkins’ inspiration for Promise came after her friend needed help keeping a family member out of jail. The relative missed a court hearing and wanted to avoid jail time. Within a few calls, the problem was solved and the idea for Promise was born.

AfroTech talked to Lamkins about challenges she’s faced launching her startup and advice she has for other people looking to start their own companies.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a founder?

My biggest challenge has been not moving quickly enough. There is always a tension between moving quickly and waiting for perfection. I always regret when I pause for perfection. It really is self-doubt winning. We need to remember to trust ourselves. We will make mistakes and that is ok, but we need to continue to push forward. That is how we learn and grow.

Q: What is one habit that you want to start/stop? Why?

A morning routine is really important for me. Meditation and exercise set the tone for the day. I am committed to growing my meditation practice and exercising in the morning. I am trying to stop reading email in the middle of the night. I often wake up with an idea that I want to write down, but then I slip into email and slack. This bad habit impacts my sleep and then my day.

Q: Who has been your biggest inspiration in the startup space?

My biggest inspiration has been the people we are working on behalf of. I believe in government. I want it to have the best technology and innovation. I also believe that too many people are behind bars. Working with counties to figure out how to get people out of jail who don’t belong there is an incredible gift. A client who is working to reduce their youth jail population told  how our technology can help them move faster and validate their work. This is what motivates me and why we created Promise. The interactions with formerly incarcerated individuals, their families and county workers make me want to be better, be faster and deliver products that accelerate change.

Q: How did you build your network and support system?

A: I am a small network person. I believe in deep and true relationships. I find people who are smarter than me, individuals who I want to learn from. Once I find them, I commit myself to the relationship. Together we are building a community in which we all get better and collectively win.

Q: Why are you attending AfroTech? What are you looking to gain from the experience?

I am attending AfroTech because my spirit needs to be surrounded by people of color. I want to look around and see a group of people I am rooting for. I believe that their success is my own and that the roadblocks they face are my responsibility to help move. This time and space is about finding and being with my people.

For more information on Promise and Phaedra, check out her website here.

Female Founders Only Raised 2.2 Percent of VC Funding This Year

Women founders received only 2.2 percent of U.S. venture capital this year, according to data from Pitchbook.

That number has not budged since last year, and it sheds light on one of the broader gender issues in entrepreneurship — most of the big decision makers are men.

Organizations like EnrichHer, Jane VC and Backstage Capital are working to diversify who venture capital goes to and are bringing women to the forefront of VC funding.

EnRicherHer is a platform that allows women-entrepreneurs to connect directly to investors. Investors can send money to the companies and organizations of their choice directly through the platform. EnrichHer also features chatting options and funding profiles to help users navigate how and with whom they’d like to spend their money.

Jane VC is a women-led VC firm that wants to fund female entrepreneurs. The company has revamped the way that entrepreneurs pitch investors by asking female founders to pitch directly to the firm. Jane VC gives relatively quick responses on whether it wants to move forward in investing and works to facilitate a network of women- entrepreneurs through office hours and events.

Backstage Capital has invested more than $4 million in underrepresented groups including women, people of colors and members of the LGBTQ community.

Although this most recent round of numbers are not much different from before, there is one bright spot. Women are on track to raise a record of amount venture capital this year. Tech Crunch’s Kate Clark has more on this:

In the last ten months, female-founded startups have closed 391 deals worth $2.3 billion, up from $2 billion in 2017. Mixed-gender teams have raised $13.2 billionthis year across 1,346 deals, an increase from $12.7 billion last year.

U.S based startups are on track to raise a record $100B this year.

Girlboss Is Launching It’s Own Social-Networking Site

Photo: CreateHerStock

There’s a new social network on the way with women entrepreneurs in mind.

Sophia Amoruso, founder, and CEO of media company Girlboss is planning to launch a social-networking site called GirlBoss Collective in January 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The professional site received part of its funding of $3.5 million from Initialized Capital, the venture capital firm co-founded by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Lightspeed Venture Partners also took part in the investment.

The social site will be a professional community where users can come and assist each other on a range of matters from negotiating raises to locating an attorney.

Although there are professional networking sites such as LinkedIn — which touts over 575 million members globally — Girlboss believes it no longer caters to the current era of working women.

“LinkedIn is a place that was built for another era of work, when the work we did was very traditional,” Amoruso told the Wall Street Journal. “Their product is really centered on that type of work: ‘Here’s nothing about my character and everything about where I went to school, and where I worked.’”

Amoruso said Girlboss created a Facebook group as a prototype for their private network with a group of 5,700 members called the “Girlboss Gang.” That’s not including the 15,000 users already on the waitlist to join the invite-only, U.S.-based network Girlboss Collective during the test phase.

Girlboss hasn’t decided on the exact cost of their paid memberships but they will be less than $15 a month.

Members will also have access to 50 hours of video footage from Girlboss events that concentrate on the success of women.

Some of those speakers include Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of HuffPost and founder of Thrive Global; Bozoma Saint John, the chief marketing officer of Endeavor; and Elaine Welteroth, the former editor in chief of Teen Vogue.

No Intros Needed: This New VC Firm Wants Women To Pitch Them Directly

Being an entrepreneur is a constant cycle of pitching and producing. Jane VC, a women-led venture capital firm that launched last week, is making pitching more efficient by letting female entrepreneurs cold email and pitch them directly here.

Jane VC’s co-founders Jennifer Neundorfer and Maren Thomas Bannon were classmates in Stanford University’s MBA program and have each had successful runs as business owners prior to starting their firm.

Neundorfer previously founded Flashstarts, a VC firmed that helped fund more than 50 Midwest-based startups. Bannon is the former CEO and founder of LittleLane, an online platform that gives parents access to local kids’ activities. 

“We started Jane after experiencing first-hand the systemic hurdles women face in tech,” the founders said in a blog post. 

The duo said that they want to take the hassle out of introductions and entrepreneurs can expect a timely and direct reply to pitches, even when they are turned down.

“We are transparent about our investment process and promise prompt follow up and decisions, even when it is a ‘no’,” the team said.

The Cleveland and London- based firm was founded to encourage and promote female entrepreneurs globally. Jane VC has raised more than $2 million so far, with hopes of funding between $25,000 and $150,000 in early-stage female-founded companies. The firm is not putting all of its eggs in the Silicon Valley basket and said that there is “massive opportunity” outside of California. 

Jane VC also offers office hours for female entrepreneurs to pitch and network with the company.

“Like all VCs, we’re looking for outstanding entrepreneurs with big ideas; but unlike most, we’re putting money on the belief that many of them will be women,” Jane VC said.

Women Startup Employees Are Seeing a Huge Equity Gap

America’s gender pay gap compensates women 80 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts — but for women working in startups, the equity gap is much worse.

According to a study released Monday by Carta, a California-based company that helps startups manage their cap table and valuations, women in tech are 35 percent of equity-holding employees, but hold only 20 percent of employee equity.

Carta analyzed nearly 180,000 startup employees at more than 6,000 companies and more than 15,000 founders.

It is common for startup employees to accept less pay in exchange for equity, in hopes that they will hit the jackpot when the company gains more success. Carta’s study showed that female equity-holding employees earn about 47 cents to the dollar of males equity-holding employees.

“Women are consistently undervalued,” said EnrichHer CEO and Founder Roshawnna Novellus. “We often expect even less [pay] because we want to be included in the story and that perpetuates why there is a disparity.”

Novellus said that women should ask employers if their pay is equitable to their team members and that this question is the first step to ensuring equal pay. EnrichHer is a Washington, D.C.-based company that connects women-founders with venture funding opportunities in an effort to bridge the pay gap between female and male-owned startups.

According to Carta, women make up 13 percent of founders, but only hold 6 percent of founder equity. These female founders own 39 cents for every dollar of equity male founders own.

Live Nation’s new initiative will fund women-founded live music businesses

Photo: CreateHerStock

The Women Nation Fund is Live Nation’s latest initiative, a global early-stage investment fund focused on developing women-led music-based business ventures. Women doing work in concert promotions, events and festival industries are qualified to apply for the fund, where they can receive valuable information, resources and money to lead to more women-run events.

“As the leader in live entertainment, we want to meaningfully address this issue, change the dynamic and widen the playing field,” said Michael Rapino, CEO and President of Live Nation.

Proposals for businesses in any country or region in the world are fair game as long as they are women-founded and provide a product or service in the live event space.

Live Nation is a clear leader in the live entertainment space, and the team of leaders who will evaluate the businesses includes a group of experienced women executives according to Billboard, including Anna Sjolund (Co-Managing Director/Head Promoter, Live Nation Sweden), Amy Corbin (Promoter, C3), Virginia Davis (Founder, G Major Management), Amy Howe (COO, Ticketmaster), Lesley Olenik (VP, Touring), Maura Gibson (President, Front Gate Tickets), Kelly Chappel (VP, Touring) and Carrie Davis (Chief Communications Officer).

Interested? Apply here!