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LIISBETH DISPATCH #44

Image by Alexey Kuzma
VIEWPOINT

STARTUP INCUBATORS ARE FAILING WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS-SO LET’S FIX IT.

In my line of work as a program consultant, I am often hired to help startup incubators and innovation spaces rethink how they attract and more importantly, retain more women entrepreneurs; In Canada at least, their public funding support is increasingly dependent on doing so.

Turns out, marketing only to women, tossing in a few pink bean bag chairs, and offering free tampons and perfumes in newly labelled gender-neutral washrooms doesn’t cut it. Neither does creating women-only startup programs embedded in co-ed spaces with programs that reinforces the patriarchal status quo. They sound good at first, but soon after the program starts, women entrepreneurs end up feeling ghettoized and stigmatized.

They end up frustrated. They leave. And they don’t come back.

Today, only 16% of incorporated enterprises in Canada are women-led and women majority owned. Reports show that participation in co-ed incubator spaces runs between 5 and 30% on average. Yet women start businesses at a rate of 20-30% higher than men. Studies showed that in spite of the extra baggage, women-majority owned businesses out-perform their male counterparts on several metrics.The fact is, ineffective programs for female founders is costing Canada alone billions of dollars of lost economic opportunity.

What economy can afford that?

Many people leading co-ed entrepreneurship and innovation incubators acknowledge the still growing body of research that confirms again and again that women face additional barriers as entrepreneurs thanks to gender-bias in our financial systems, sexism, and the realities of biology in an economy designed to privilege people who can delegate caregiving and don’t need time off after physically growing and finally squeezing a new eight to ten pound human out of their bodies–not to mention then feeding them exclusively via your boobs for months after.

In fact, the people running incubators witness examples of the many barriers first hand. They have VIP seats in the stadium when it comes to observing how women experience and must navigate entrepreneurship differently to succeed. They also see how women of colour, indigenous women, newcomers, and those working two jobs to make ends meet. They experience additional challenges.

So why are they having so much trouble figuring out how to help women founders, and their enterprises, flourish?

The answer is in knowing “how to get through a gateless gate“.

This article could help get you started. 


THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH

Woman Is Wolf to Woman

From a psychological and philosophical perspective, mental health counsellor, Maria Basualdo discusses the critical need for women to unite and work together. “…activism is the only way women can bring about transformation in ourselves, not just socially and politically, but by refusing to be wolf to women in our mundane realities.

Sounds like an obvious idea. But why doesn’t it happen?


Ria Lupton (middle), LiisBeth Contributor and friends at Montreal Startupfest 2018

Montreal Startup Fest 2018

New Contributor Ria Lupton got an “inclusion” ticket to Startupfest 2018 in Montreal last month. So we asked her to writing a story about her experience as a participant in a program dedicated to “…connecting entrepreneurs from diverse communities to equal opportunities.”

Ultimately, we wanted to know if to find out if things had improved since we last wrote about this tech-fest now in its seventh year.


https://youtu.be/MTaTnyN5vxU

Fallen Men of Thrones

I knew that billionaire motivational speaker Tony Robbins and I were not aligned in many of our beliefs about how the world worked. But he sure knew how to whip up mass hysteria.

In the video above, you will notice that his euphoric fans represent a diverse, mostly-male-but-good-helping-of-female crowd looking to be primarily…reassured. They are told that if they work hard, remain disciplined, clean, goal-focused, and believe in themselves, the world is theirs to exploit—despite the various systemic oppressions they face.  Blaming something other than yourself for your state in life is not part of Robbins’ creed. “Just Say Yes! And presto, you are halfway there!”

Come on. Who doesn’t love a message like that?

But then came Robbins’ #metoo moment where he showed incredible ignorance about the powers that shape the lives of women in the workplace. He apologized. But that wasn’t enough for Kelly Diels.

Kelly Diels, feminist marketing consultant

This is Diels, a feminist marketing expert, who is writing a new book about the female empowerment brand says “…when our most cherished self-help leaders, spiritual teachers, coaches and empowers-of-women are waving the same flag as an MRA, let us agree it is a red one.”

In her free-online-chapter of her upcoming book, Diels critically interrogates the female empowerment brand and highlights the dark role that motivational speakers—mostly male but also many female—play in advancing this dangerous opioid-like narrative.

If you are attending a conference with a motivational speaker as a keynote in the next few weeks, you might want to read this before you go.


LIISBETH FIELD NOTES

Don’t You Want Me

global photography project showcasing the beauty and resilience of disenfranchised LGBTQ people with their rescued dogs. The coupling of compelling and personal images with accompanying narratives and a celebratory flair, the aim is to show that individuals of all stripes have the shared ability to transform their lives when they are given love and the question of ‘who rescued who’ becomes universal, no matter how you identify.

The project kicks off soon and is currently seeking subjects in Toronto, Brighton UK, and NYC. To participate get in touch here.


Feminist Economics Yoga in Thunder Bay

Cassie Thornton isn’t a healer, she’s just really angry. She is also an artist, an activist, and a kundalini yoga instructor who lives and works between Thunder Bay, Berlin, and Oakland.

In short, Feminist Economics Yoga is combining feminized practices and values like care, health and reproduction with a challenging but accessible yoga practice that focuses on breath and movement. It is designed to heal the nervous system, spine and brain—all areas affected by the experience and challenges of living, breathing, and working in today’s world.

Practicing feminist economics yoga is a way to remind yourself to check in with what you’re experiencing and see what parts you might want to break up with.” – Cassie Thornton, Feminist Economist

You can help fund production of a new series of yoga video tutorials that aim to help heal our social and economic wounds and move forward collectively by visiting Cassie’s Kickstarter campaign: Let’s Break Up w/ Capitalism!

She is planning a Feminist Economics Yoga workshop is in Thunder Bay later this fall. For more info go to: www.secretchakra.net


Aspen Ideas Festival 2018

Is the Backlash back?

From the Aspen Ideas Festival…Good Feminist, Bad Feminist — Who Gets to Decide?

The beauty of feminism is that it’s always growing and changing and that we allow space for it.” – Tarana Burke, Founder of #Metoo Movement

If you have an hour on your hands, take the time to watch this panel talk. It will change your perspective. The star of the show in our view was Brittney Cooper, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University.  She is also the co-founder of the edgy and widely read Crunk Feminist Collective blog. Her new book, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower is available now!

Hang on to your hat for this one. [90 minutes]


Joyce Lee, Founder, herPossibility

Summer Camp for Little Girls with Big Dreams

Joyce Lee is the founder of herPossibility, a summer camp for girls ages 8 to 14 that focuses on empowering youth to be confident and creative leaders.

The camp will have hands on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities to help girls develop their empathy and growth mindset, generate creative ideas, and build self-confidence in group settings.

This year we’re supporting a group of refugee girls that are new from Syria. And seeing them be able to speak their truth and be themselves is wonderful,” says Lee who encountered a lot of tech bias when she attended the University of Waterloo. “I was always that shy girl in the corner and having that experience really made me want to do something about it.”

Camp runs August 13 – 17th, 2018 at Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre in Toronto.


You gotta give Svetlana Ratnikova (pictured here hugging the woman in the foreground), founder of Toronto’s Immmigrant Women in Business network a bow.  She knows how to energize a group-in a whole hearted and dare we say, uniquely Russian way!  LiisBeth attended their last event. The quality of the talks were high. And you have to love the fact that the event was opened up with a toast to the opportunity to be in Canada.  If you are a entrepreneur looking to experience global feminism in one room, we highly recommend you give them a try.


WHAT WE’RE READING 
Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky

Sarah Selecky thanks Kelly Diels in the acknowledgements of her debut novel, Radiant Shimmering Light. “Diels coined the term “Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand” and confronts the subject deftly on her website,” says Selecky. The same could be said of Selecky. The novel is bursting with sparkle and satire, earnestness and colour. The story follows Lilian Quick, a struggling pet-portrait artist who reconnects with her estranged cousin, Eleven Novak, who runs a hugely successful women’s empowerment program called Ascendancy.

Through sharp insight and detailed, entertaining prose, Selecky examines the interconnectedness of art, commerce, and entrepreneurship in a timely resurgence of online feminism.

How We Get Free, edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

The Combahee River Collective Statement was written in April, 1977 but is as relevant today as it was then. It has been referred to as “among the most compelling documents produced by black feminists”. This is one of intersectional feminism’s foundational texts.

The Statement itself has four separate chapters: The Genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism; What We Believe; Problems in Organizing Black Feminist; and Black Feminist Issues and Projects. The published book adds on to this; It includes interviews with original members of the collective.

The writing is eloguent, inspiring and clear as glass. Anyone looking for a good example of a manifesto–or deepen their understanding of intersectional feminism– need look no further.


AND FINALLY…IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!
  • CIX is seeking female entrepreneurs!
    Canada’s highly curated startup investment conference is looking for more submissions to the Top 20 program from female entrepreneurs across Canada as applications in the demographic are low. The summit runs October 22-23rd in Toronto. Apply here.
  • The Honourable Bardish Chagger, P.C., M.P., Minister of Small Business and Tourism announced the launch of an $8.6 millioncompetitive process to create a Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub to accelerate the accumulation and dissemination of data, knowledge, and best practices regarding women entrepreneurs. Read the news release or find out about the application process here.
  • LiisBeth Founding Publisher Petra Kassun-Mutch will be speaking about feminist business practice at the upcoming MJBizConINT’L  Women in Cannabis Wednesday, August 15th at George Brown. MJBizConINt’L attracts more than 2,000 attendees and 125+ exhibitors from around the world will meet to discuss the role of the cannabis global marketplace.
  • NEW! The Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa released a report about benchmarking small and medium enterprises as suppliers to the Canadian government. The report provides new insights about gender of ownership, innovation, international trade, and firm performance.

CAN’T MISS EVENTS

Fall is coming! And oh la la! The list of events worth putting on your learning journey calendar is getting longer:

UN Women – Metro NY Chapter: Summer Info Session in NYC
Join the Metro NY Chapter of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women for our semi-annual info session. Learn about their all-volunteer organization and network with other like-minded gender equality warriors! Refreshments will be provided.
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018
6:30 – 8:30 PM
WeWork
300 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016
USA
Cost: Suggested donation: $10
RSVP here.

Networking and Inspirational Leadership Event
A new IWB (Immigrant Women in Business) Chapter in Bradford is hosting an exclusive, private gathering. IWB welcomes all, and is especially important place for immigrants. (All genders welcome). Saturday, August 25th, 2018
4:00 – 8:00 PM
CU Optical
157 Holland St E #4
Bradford, ONTARIO
Cost: FREE
Register here.

Venus Fest: A Canadian Music Festival Celebrating Feminism in the Arts
September 20–22nd, 2018
Opera House
735 Queen Street West
Toronto, ONTARIO
Cost: $77 for a three-day pass.
Get tickets here.

Anti-Oppression for Artists + Cultural Producers
This workshop for artists explores the language, theories and practices of anti-oppression in depth. Participants will have access to a plethora of digital and print resources to continue their learning journey beyond the scope of the session. Wednesday, September 26th, 2018
6:00 – 9:00 PM
Wychwood Barns Park
B Current Space
76 Wychwood Avenue
Toronto, ONTARIO M6G 2X7
Cost: PWYC – $55
Register here.

B-Corp Champions Retreat in New Orleans
The annual gathering of mission-driven leaders of the B Corp community focused on collective action and continuous improvement. Open to all employees of Certified B Corps, Impact management partners, nonprofits and academics, and other members of the ‘B Economy’.
September 25 – 27th, 2018
New Orleans, Louisiana
USA
Cost: $400 – $1095 + fees
Register here.

Power the Economy: Growing Women Owned Businesses in Canada
WEConnect International in Canada will host its signature annual event, Power the Economy, for women-owned businesses, multinational corporations, senior government officials, and partner organizations supporting the growth of women’s entrepreneurship across Canada.
October 26th, 2018
Beanfield Centre
105 Princes’ Blvd
Toronto, ONTARIO
Cost: $199
Register here.

The 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum
November 10 and 11, 2018
The Gladstone Hotel
1214 Queen Street West
Toronto, ONTARIO
SAVE THE DATE!
Ticket information coming soon.


That brings us to the end of our August newsletter. The next newsletter is scheduled for September 2018. 

We are looking for speaker and workshop proposals for the second annual Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum planned for November, 2018. For guidelines, visit the website.

And just one last reminder. If you are considering a way to support feminist entrepreneurs, or help connect women-led initiatives and communities, look no further than cbecoming a subscriber to LiisBeth! We humbly remind you that subscriptionsare $3/month, $7/month or $10/month.

We are now on Patreon!

Funds go directly towards paying writers, editors, proofreaders, photo permission fees, and illustrators. Building a more just future requires time, love—and financial support.

Enjoy August.  Summers are so short!

Categories
Our Voices

On Diversity and Inclusion: Did Startupfest Fix Its Bro-mess?

In 2016, LiisBeth founder and publisher, PK Mutch, attended Startupfest in Montreal and wrote a critical piece about the rabid bro-preneurship on display and stunning lack of diversity in programming and speakers. (See Problem Bro-preneurship)

Festival organizers contacted Mutch a few months to discuss concerns her article raised – as well as the subsequent public reaction.

Two years later, I had the opportunity to attend Startupfest and discovered that the conference had improved by leaps and bounds on the diversity front.

As part of its inclusion initiative, Startupfest offered 1,000 discounted tickets for entrepreneurs from under-represented communities. This made it possible for me — and others like myself — to attend the much-hyped conference in Montreal, alongside 6,500 other attendees. According to Philippe Telio, founder and producer of Startupfest, about 600 Inclusion Initiative tickets were purchased. Which begs the question, why were the other 400 not snapped up?

There’s More to Gender Parity Than Numbers

As a way to support women in technology and entrepreneurship, Startupfest hosted its first ever women in technology bootcamp. While I did not attend the bootcamp myself, I spoke to a few attendees who did and they all had positive things to say.

This was also the first year that organizers achieved gender parity on the main Startupfest stage, though not on smaller stages including Scaleupfest, Cannabisfest and AI-fest.

But in an interview, Philippe said the festival would continue to strive for gender parity and had set strict targets to achieve gender parity in all aspects of the event.

I noticed plenty of women attending the conference and after parties, and I found the festival a great place to network with industry peers. But there is more to gender parity than numbers, leaving plenty of work yet to do as far as inclusion is concerned.

Inclusion Requires Communication

Take Exhibit A, the Scaleupfest stage. On my first day at the conference, I was eager to hear pitches so that’s where I headed. As the name suggests, entrepreneurs made pitches for why investors should put money into scaling up their startups. While many pitches were impressive, there was a noticeable lack of women presenting. According to Philippe, anyone applying to pitch in this event could do so. So why did so few women apply?

Perhaps women entrepreneurs attending did not have businesses that had reached scale-up stage. Perhaps they were intimidated facing a crowd of would-be investors.

It would appear that “no” is the proper answer to both assumptions. When the official program wrapped and the floor was opened to anyone in the audience who wanted a crack at pitching, a number of women came forward. Of those I spoke to, they said they were not aware of the opportunity to take part in the official part of the event.

Inclusion takes more than programming. It requires communication that targets under-represented groups and invites participation.

Onward and Forward for Startupfest 2019

As a young mother, I would have appreciated more thought given to the demands that placed on me as an attendee. For starters, I would have loved access to a nursing room – as I imagine many other women would too.

I am also a visible minority and appreciated seeing men of colour up on the stage. Still, I would love to see more women of colour represented, both in terms of hosting and sharing their expertise. In my experience, men of colour are used as a blanket group for all people of colour and that excludes a lot of people.

On the whole, I took away some great insights from experiences shared by folks at Startupfest, especially the more tactical talks. I am the Head of Marketing at GrowthGenius so I found the marketing chats most appealing, in particular the talk by Hana Abaza, where she highlighted how to scale marketing. I will definitely be back again next year for the talks and a chance to spend time with industry peers and friends alike.


Related Articles

https://www.liisbeth.com/2017/11/21/elevate-diversity-conferences-real/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2017/08/28/elevating-inclusion-diversity-toronto-tech-scene/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2018/05/10/five-feminist-event-practices-work/

 

Categories
Systems

The Future of Accelerators and Incubators?

Sean O’Sullivan believes that 90 per cent of the world’s 7,000 incubators and accelerators will fail, close down, or be absorbed by their hosts within the next few years. As someone who has worked in an incubator, this prediction caught my attention.

O’Sullivan, founder and managing director of SOSV, a large venture fund with its own privately run accelerator program, and who has invested in 400 companies over 20 years, gave a keynote speech at Montreal Startupfest’s Premium AcceleratorFest (held a day before the main festival) on July 13. And while bullish on the importance of entrepreneurs in innovation-dependent economies, he did not think the future was bright for hybrid incubators or accelerators in particular. This was not good news for the attendees—the majority of whom manage or work in these organizations—or for the entrepreneurs who depend on hybrid incubators and accelerators to succeed.

But let’s start at the beginning. In order to understand O’Sullivan’s predictions for the sector, it is important that one knows some basic industry terms.

What Is an Accelerator and Incubator?

While their operational practices (length of program, terms of engagement, level of pressure, sector focus, philosophy) vary, they both aim to improve an entrepreneur’s odds of success by providing programming, mentoring, space, and facilitating access to funding. The main difference between the two is in legal form and who pays their operating costs. Incubators are primarily non-profit organizations (or hosted by them) and are funded publicly or by donations and grants. Accelerators tend to be private, for-profit organizations, often backed by a private equity or venture capital funds.

For-profit accelerators or incubators are in business to make a profit for their shareholders or venture fund partners as quickly as possible. Non-profit equivalents are generally in business to diversify the local economy, provide new opportunities for struggling demographics, build out new industries, and create local jobs. They generally take a longer-term view with a focus on social benefits.

So What Are Hybrids?

The hybrids are a combination of incubator and accelerator. They are funded by public money and donations, and are charged with the mission to achieve economic development and social goals for their area. However, they’re increasingly expected to reduce their dependence on public money (and the uncertainty that comes with that) by also aiming to make a profit on the companies they incubate. Many university incubators serve as examples.

And therein lies the rub. Hybrids essentially have two masters and dual missions: serve the public policy agenda, and make money while doing it. In O’Sullivan’s view, it’s like trying to mix oil and water. You can be one or the other, but not both. “Trying to combine social goals with profit-making is very unlikely to succeed.”

O’Sullivan also suggested there was an oversupply of incubators and accelerators generating increasingly mediocre results. High potential startups will gravitate to the best, or not bother with incubators or accelerators at all (like entrepreneurs used to do before they came along) because they will be perceived as either a waste of time or money, or both. This will result in a much needed shake out. “And that’s okay,” said O’Sullivan.

Many in the audience nodded in agreement with the prediction that hybrids are likely the first to go. Those that don’t close down entirely will most likely be absorbed by their institutional or corporate hosts and be re-configured (for example, marginal university incubator programs will be reclaimed by academic councils).

In O’Sullivan’s view, ultimately, only venture-capital-backed programs will be left standing.

But as we consider this prediction, we also need to remember that this “who will survive” divination is coming from the perspective of venture fund managers and venture capitalists like O’Sullivan. Making money for shareholders or partners is what they are paid to do. For them, doing anything else would just amount to a mandate to fail.

 

For more reading on accelerators and incubators, visit International Business Innovation Association or Canadian Acceleration and Business Incubation.

 

Categories
Activism & Action

The Problem with Bro-preneurship: On Display at Montreal’s Startupfest

Too often we talk about entrepreneurship as if it were one community, one culture. In reality, it is a kaleidoscope of philosophies, approaches, and cultures. But the bro-oriented, Silicon Valley tech culture sucks up all the media oxygen and, with it, too much of the venture capital. And the celebration of that narrow aspect of entrepreneurship is getting stale.

Take Montreal’s Startupfest, now in its sixth year. An estimated 3,500 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, accelerators, incubators, policy-makers, consultants, and bankers (mostly from Canada and the U.S.) paid between $300 and $800 per person to attend what were often puerile, shoddily prepared presentations interrupting what seemed to be the main event: big money boys trying to out dude each other on stage and at festival parties.

The event is a marquis summer event for Montreal, a city trying to position itself on the global innovation map as a world-class startup haven. It currently ranks 20th behind Toronto at 17th.

This year, the festival featured 70 speakers and three separate circus tent stages set up in the Old Port of Montreal. Many came to compete in pitching competitions awarding anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 in seed funding. Apparently, they also came for loads of free drinks (sponsored by Osler and Shopify), and the chance to play with “grown-up” toys such as foosball and snag pink beach balls and free pairs of Parasuco jeans, giveaways by various sponsor booths. The event billed itself as “unforgettable and unconventional.”

Beware: What Sells as Unconventional Is Actually Deeply Conventional

I attended the fest, on the lookout for the unconventional. Other than a pitch judging panel called The Grandmothers (retired women entrepreneurs) and pop-up child care, most of the event was the same old celebration of tech/VC-centred bro-preneurship.

For those who have never been, these conferences work hard to craft a cool, anti-establishment experience. But look beyond the nifty swag, red sneakers, and neon lights, and what you really see is raw, 300-year-old capitalism at work. Large venture capital firms and accelerators, hip as they try to be to scoop up young talent, are really just organizations with age-old biases and management processes, freighted with old-boy politics and rules. Startups that win their backing quickly become traditional corporations. Winning big VC backing requires fitting in and doing things their way. So much for following your own authentic path that fired you up in the first place. So much for rebelling against big money and “the man.”

The speaker lineup was touted as first class, but session topics were narrow in scope and short on depth as well as respect for the audience. There were no sessions on social entrepreneurship nor on the now estimated $3 trillion impact investing space, a scale that surely deserves some attention at an event like this. Several headline speakers tried to come across as unconventional and unscripted but were simply unprepared. A few rogue panelists seemed more interested in using air time to fortify their personal brands rather than sharing useful information. No one interrogated the space itself or asked the audience to reflect hard on important questions such as how many jobs their ventures are creating, where those jobs are located and for whom. Or even how to address growing structural unemployment some new ventures accelerate with next-stage robots and artificial intelligence. But a presenter just showing up and being mildly entertaining was celebrated. The casualty? Audience learning and value for money. Though, sadly, too few bros in the audience seemed to care.

Fuck That: No, I Really Mean, Fuck That

Tech culture tries to pass itself off as unconventional, rebellious, and youthful by celebrating a culture of cussing, but that quickly became old as presenters over 40 seemed in full-out competition to drop as many f-bombs as possible. It must have felt dangerous for them, a little like swearing in front of their mothers for the first time. I can say “fuck” deliciously and often, but when it comes to using the f-word on stage, I take my lead from uber-orators like Tony Robbins who swears, but strategically and not at the expense of substance. Full of dude-itude, these guys dropped bombs as if on auto-repeat rather than using their words to say anything informative.

What’s lost when organizers cuss on stage themselves? Or when a Master of Ceremonies counsels audience members to count the times they hear the word “fuck” and suggests awarding prizes to the speaker who drops the most bombs? Let’s just say it was a distraction from the obvious—that those who used it most had the least to say.

A Chance to Meet “The Man”: But He Doesn’t Care About You

Too typical of the event were speakers like Dave McClure. Now McClure has an enviable reputation as a celebrity angel investor. According to his website, his venture fund (co-founded by Christine Tsai, who is never mentioned) has made investments in 1,500 companies in 50 countries. Not surprisingly, the tent he spoke in was packed with eager conference goers of all genders and ages hopeful to bag some of that venture capital. I hoped he might have something meaty to say. I turned on my recorder just in case.

As he settled into his speaker’s chair, the first thing he told the audience, with a strange pride as if anticipating we would be impressed, was that he didn’t have time to prepare his 30-minute talk. He had planned to write one the night before but he got drunk at the festival party instead. (Everyone laughed knowingly.) So the paying audience would have to make do with festival staffer interviewing him on stage.

A competitive type, he began his talk by reciting comedian George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television“, (circa 1972) and added that he didn’t understand why the last word, tits, was a problem. “Afterall, even girls like tits”. The crowd laughed and followed with a rousing “ya man” applause.

When asked about diversity, he noted that African Americans and Hispanics add up to 30 per cent of the population and were definitely an under-indexed population (people, anyone?). He said he started his 500 Startups diversity program “not because we’re wonderful or good Samaritans but because (and his voice lifted excitedly) we can make a lot of fucking money!” After a few in the audience hooted, he elaborated, “We’re just greedy blood-sucking venture capitalists who just want to make a lot of fucking money…arbitraging racism and sexism for our own selfish fucking benefit and the globe.”

If you can stomach a minute and 20 seconds of his rant, you can listen to it here.

Apparently, being offensive was part of his celebrity shtick for a reality TV show he had been cast in. (It was cancelled before starting.) I questioned whether I was a humourless bitch or had landed in an Animal House full of frat boys. Guess I can ponder the question further as 500 Startups is opening up shop in my home city of Toronto and nearby Waterloo. Can’t wait.

His talk lasted only 20 minutes, thank God. Still, the audience clapped and several even whistled appreciatively. Later, I asked more than 15 entrepreneurs—of both sexes and a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds—what they thought of his talk.  The majority were nonplussed by his shock-jock style. They considered it part of a salable celebrity personality. To them, he was still a hero and model. “After all,” enthused one 20-something South Asian entrepreneur, “he gives a lot of money to entrepreneurs.”

Only one person expressed what I was thinking, that his talk was disgusting and disappointing and you can listen to that response here.

WTF? But the Networking Was Fun

Montreal Startupfest does many things well, especially facilitating networking. There were lots of long breaks, free Nespresso, the bar was open all day, tech demo tents and mentor tents hummed with people, and they rocked social media. Others could learn from them on this. But they blew their opportunity to stand out from other conferences like this by not broadening the scope of topics and by not professionalizing their management of panels and speakers. Positive change might start by choosing speakers who represent where the event wants to go, not where it has been. Efforts to be gender inclusive by ensuring gender balance on stage was actually laudable. You could tell organizers were really trying. But still, the overwhelming majority of attendees were male (by my eyeball count it was more than 80 per cent). Many experts understand that real inclusivity has to address culture as well as rosters, and that means changing the adolescent, bro culture that so dominates the tech/venture capital entrepreneur space, which not only diminishes inclusivity but inhibits real learning and dampens the festival’s potential for growth and meaningful impact.

Thankfully, times are changing. And events like this will have to evolve to stay relevant—or others will replace them. As for me, I love a good time as much as any bro-preneur. On that basis, I would totally go again but next time, I won’t bother with a notebook. I’ll just pack my party shoes—and Tylenol.

 


 

Follow up readings:

Another good article about the impact of bro talk:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/10/opinion/sunday/how-wall-street-bro-talk-keeps-women-down.html?_r=0

The Best Presentation?

By Ooshma Garg, founder of Gobble, prepared and amazing, instructive story.

Other perspectives and articles about Montreal Startupfest:
http://montrealgazette.com/business/local-business/montreals-startupfest-is-all-grown-up

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/nathon-kong-wins-cbc-media-pitch-at-the-international-startup-festival-1.3158246

http://montreal.ctvnews.ca/startupfest-connects-entrepreneurs-with-investors-1.2987132

https://ludovicdumas.com/2011/07/19/montreal-international-startup-festival-2011-bubble-talk/

About the founder, Phil Telio:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/telio

 

Categories
Activism & Action

The Problem with Bro-preneurship: On Display at Montreal's Startupfest


Too often we talk about entrepreneurship as if it were one community, one culture. In reality, it is a kaleidoscope of philosophies, approaches, and cultures. But the bro-oriented, Silicon Valley tech culture sucks up all the media oxygen and, with it, too much of the venture capital. And the celebration of that narrow aspect of entrepreneurship is getting stale.
Take Montreal’s Startupfest, now in its sixth year. An estimated 3,500 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, accelerators, incubators, policy-makers, consultants, and bankers (mostly from Canada and the U.S.) paid between $300 and $800 per person to attend what were often puerile, shoddily prepared presentations interrupting what seemed to be the main event: big money boys trying to out dude each other on stage and at festival parties.
The event is a marquis summer event for Montreal, a city trying to position itself on the global innovation map as a world-class startup haven. It currently ranks 20th behind Toronto at 17th.
This year, the festival featured 70 speakers and three separate circus tent stages set up in the Old Port of Montreal. Many came to compete in pitching competitions awarding anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 in seed funding. Apparently, they also came for loads of free drinks (sponsored by Osler and Shopify), and the chance to play with “grown-up” toys such as foosball and snag pink beach balls and free pairs of Parasuco jeans, giveaways by various sponsor booths. The event billed itself as “unforgettable and unconventional.”
Beware: What Sells as Unconventional Is Actually Deeply Conventional
I attended the fest, on the lookout for the unconventional. Other than a pitch judging panel called The Grandmothers (retired women entrepreneurs) and pop-up child care, most of the event was the same old celebration of tech/VC-centred bro-preneurship.
For those who have never been, these conferences work hard to craft a cool, anti-establishment experience. But look beyond the nifty swag, red sneakers, and neon lights, and what you really see is raw, 300-year-old capitalism at work. Large venture capital firms and accelerators, hip as they try to be to scoop up young talent, are really just organizations with age-old biases and management processes, freighted with old-boy politics and rules. Startups that win their backing quickly become traditional corporations. Winning big VC backing requires fitting in and doing things their way. So much for following your own authentic path that fired you up in the first place. So much for rebelling against big money and “the man.”
The speaker lineup was touted as first class, but session topics were narrow in scope and short on depth as well as respect for the audience. There were no sessions on social entrepreneurship nor on the now estimated $3 trillion impact investing space, a scale that surely deserves some attention at an event like this. Several headline speakers tried to come across as unconventional and unscripted but were simply unprepared. A few rogue panelists seemed more interested in using air time to fortify their personal brands rather than sharing useful information. No one interrogated the space itself or asked the audience to reflect hard on important questions such as how many jobs their ventures are creating, where those jobs are located and for whom. Or even how to address growing structural unemployment some new ventures accelerate with next-stage robots and artificial intelligence. But a presenter just showing up and being mildly entertaining was celebrated. The casualty? Audience learning and value for money. Though, sadly, too few bros in the audience seemed to care.
Fuck That: No, I Really Mean, Fuck That
Tech culture tries to pass itself off as unconventional, rebellious, and youthful by celebrating a culture of cussing, but that quickly became old as presenters over 40 seemed in full-out competition to drop as many f-bombs as possible. It must have felt dangerous for them, a little like swearing in front of their mothers for the first time. I can say “fuck” deliciously and often, but when it comes to using the f-word on stage, I take my lead from uber-orators like Tony Robbins who swears, but strategically and not at the expense of substance. Full of dude-itude, these guys dropped bombs as if on auto-repeat rather than using their words to say anything informative.
What’s lost when organizers cuss on stage themselves? Or when a Master of Ceremonies counsels audience members to count the times they hear the word “fuck” and suggests awarding prizes to the speaker who drops the most bombs? Let’s just say it was a distraction from the obvious—that those who used it most had the least to say.
A Chance to Meet “The Man”: But He Doesn’t Care About You
Too typical of the event were speakers like Dave McClure. Now McClure has an enviable reputation as a celebrity angel investor. According to his website, his venture fund (co-founded by Christine Tsai, who is never mentioned) has made investments in 1,500 companies in 50 countries. Not surprisingly, the tent he spoke in was packed with eager conference goers of all genders and ages hopeful to bag some of that venture capital. I hoped he might have something meaty to say. I turned on my recorder just in case.
As he settled into his speaker’s chair, the first thing he told the audience, with a strange pride as if anticipating we would be impressed, was that he didn’t have time to prepare his 30-minute talk. He had planned to write one the night before but he got drunk at the festival party instead. (Everyone laughed knowingly.) So the paying audience would have to make do with festival staffer interviewing him on stage.

A competitive type, he began his talk by reciting comedian George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television“, (circa 1972) and added that he didn’t understand why the last word, tits, was a problem. “Afterall, even girls like tits”. The crowd laughed and followed with a rousing “ya man” applause.

When asked about diversity, he noted that African Americans and Hispanics add up to 30 per cent of the population and were definitely an under-indexed population (people, anyone?). He said he started his 500 Startups diversity program “not because we’re wonderful or good Samaritans but because (and his voice lifted excitedly) we can make a lot of fucking money!” After a few in the audience hooted, he elaborated, “We’re just greedy blood-sucking venture capitalists who just want to make a lot of fucking money…arbitraging racism and sexism for our own selfish fucking benefit and the globe.”
If you can stomach a minute and 20 seconds of his rant, you can listen to it here.
Apparently, being offensive was part of his celebrity shtick for a reality TV show he had been cast in. (It was cancelled before starting.) I questioned whether I was a humourless bitch or had landed in an Animal House full of frat boys. Guess I can ponder the question further as 500 Startups is opening up shop in my home city of Toronto and nearby Waterloo. Can’t wait.
His talk lasted only 20 minutes, thank God. Still, the audience clapped and several even whistled appreciatively. Later, I asked more than 15 entrepreneurs—of both sexes and a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds—what they thought of his talk.  The majority were nonplussed by his shock-jock style. They considered it part of a salable celebrity personality. To them, he was still a hero and model. “After all,” enthused one 20-something South Asian entrepreneur, “he gives a lot of money to entrepreneurs.”
Only one person expressed what I was thinking, that his talk was disgusting and disappointing and you can listen to that response here.
WTF? But the Networking Was Fun
Montreal Startupfest does many things well, especially facilitating networking. There were lots of long breaks, free Nespresso, the bar was open all day, tech demo tents and mentor tents hummed with people, and they rocked social media. Others could learn from them on this. But they blew their opportunity to stand out from other conferences like this by not broadening the scope of topics and by not professionalizing their management of panels and speakers. Positive change might start by choosing speakers who represent where the event wants to go, not where it has been. Efforts to be gender inclusive by ensuring gender balance on stage was actually laudable. You could tell organizers were really trying. But still, the overwhelming majority of attendees were male (by my eyeball count it was more than 80 per cent). Many experts understand that real inclusivity has to address culture as well as rosters, and that means changing the adolescent, bro culture that so dominates the tech/venture capital entrepreneur space, which not only diminishes inclusivity but inhibits real learning and dampens the festival’s potential for growth and meaningful impact.
Thankfully, times are changing. And events like this will have to evolve to stay relevant—or others will replace them. As for me, I love a good time as much as any bro-preneur. On that basis, I would totally go again but next time, I won’t bother with a notebook. I’ll just pack my party shoes—and Tylenol.
 


 
Follow up readings:
Another good article about the impact of bro talk:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/10/opinion/sunday/how-wall-street-bro-talk-keeps-women-down.html?_r=0
The Best Presentation?
By Ooshma Garg, founder of Gobble, prepared and amazing, instructive story.
Other perspectives and articles about Montreal Startupfest:
http://montrealgazette.com/business/local-business/montreals-startupfest-is-all-grown-up
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/nathon-kong-wins-cbc-media-pitch-at-the-international-startup-festival-1.3158246
http://montreal.ctvnews.ca/startupfest-connects-entrepreneurs-with-investors-1.2987132
https://ludovicdumas.com/2011/07/19/montreal-international-startup-festival-2011-bubble-talk/
About the founder, Phil Telio:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/telio