Four years ago, Chaitra Vedullapalli noticed something that was as conspicuous as it was insidious.
She was working for Ignite Washington, a tech coalition that aims to address digital equity and readiness for businesses, and traveling throughout Washington state giving presentations on how small-business owners could grow their businesses using the latest technologies, such as digital cloud computing and IoT (Internet of Things).
“There wouldn’t be any women in the room except for me, standing there and presenting,” recalled Vedullapalli, a tech industry veteran who started her career at Oracle’s Silicon Valley headquarters 20 years ago, before moving to Washington state and working for Microsoft. “It was kind of weird. Where were all the women entrepreneurs? It was just very strange. Out of the over 4,000 people we met, I only met five women tech entrepreneurs … I went to my friends in the tech industry and said, ‘I think we have a problem. We need to address this.’”
It’s no secret the tech industry has work to do when it comes to improving female representation on several fronts, be it landing a job and advancing one’s career, or finding investors to take pitch meetings and back female-led startups.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports the number of women in computing jobs has dropped from 36 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 2015, and a 2016 study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology pointed to factors such as workplace conditions, a lack of access to key creative roles, and a sense of feeling stalled as reasons for female attrition from the tech field.
Data compiled by PitchBook — a Seattle company that tracks data related to mergers and acquisitions, private equity, and venture capital — and reported by Fortune show $1.9 billion (or only 2.2 percent) of $85 billion invested by venture capitalists last year went to startup tech companies founded and led by females. Meanwhile, companies founded and led by men collected $66.9 billion (or 79 percent) in VC funding. Female-led companies closed 368 deals valued at $5 million on average, while male-led companies closed 5,588 deals valued at $12 million on average.
Last year, Vedullapalli and a team of Eastside female tech industry leaders — Carrie Francey and Evelyn Zabo at Hewlett-Packard, Gretchen O’Hara and Karen Fassio at Microsoft, Wendy White at Egencia, and Jacquie Touma at Curious Enterprises — decided to create Women In Cloud, an organization that aims to create opportunities and access for entrepreneurial acceleration of tech businesses, and be a source of inspiration, resources, and support that connects and empowers women in Washington and beyond to realize their potential.
In a short amount of time, Women In Cloud has earned the backing of more than two dozen companies and organizations, such as Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Microsoft, Washington State Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
It hosted its inaugural summit meeting at Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters in January and launched the Women In Cloud Accelerator Lab in March. Twenty-seven women-led tech companies applied for the immersive, six-month program, and 12 companies were accepted: Clever Databases, Stylyze, Plantmatch, RightSciences, Daysaver, Agile Impact, Bitlume, Computing Kids, genneve, Automaton Marketing, Red Sky, and Visual Media Group.
“We are really focused on access to opportunities, talent, investment, and a network of mentors and sponsors,” Vedullapalli explained.
Accelerator Lab participants are learning how to build or scale their businesses using Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Cloud Computing technologies and enabling customer acquisition via their channel programs. Also, they receive one-on-one coaching from Microsoft executives, and learn strategies for pitching to venture capitalists and negotiating deals.
“For the first time, I can see tangible ways to leverage the expansive networks of Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise to take my business to a B2B audience,” Jill Angelo, CEO of genneve, a startup that offers health resources to women experiencing menopause, said. “They’re helping me visualize what a go-to-market cloud partnership looks like to grow my business.”
“This is a huge opportunity for us to build our cloud business and utilize the support of these great partners along this exciting journey,” Sharon A. Davison, CEO of Red Sky, a communications consulting firm, added.
One important resource for Accelerator Lab participants is Women In Cloud’s ability to put them in front of company procurement managers, as well as investors and venture capitalists.
During the organization’s inaugural summit, Gillian Muessig, a tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Outlines Venture Group, announced her plan to create the Sybilla Masters Fund. Along with Outlines Venture Group President Anne Kennedy and retired Microsoft executive Alka Badshah, Muessig is raising $100 million to fund startup companies that have at least one female founder or leadership team member.
Vedullapalli said that at the end of the six-month Accelerator Lab program, Muessig will meet with each participant to learn more about their businesses, which have been vetted by Women In Cloud and gained experience through the six-month program.
“We are doing the heavy lifting of getting the companies ready, and (Muessig and her team) are doing the heavy lifting of getting the funding,” Vedullapalli said.
But the most significant measure of success for Women In Cloud is arguably bigger than landing a multimillion-dollar deal with a venture capitalist. Instead, it’s a little more transformative.
“Our goal with Women In Cloud is that we don’t need to exist if policies and programs provide equal access to opportunities,” Vedullapalli said.
“If it’s done correctly and we have influenced corporate procurement policies, diversity recruitment programs, channel programs, and startup programs, then we don’t need to be here. Everything will be working the way it should.”