SETsquared Blog

Why I want SETsquared to lead the way for female tech entrepreneurs

Martha Lane Fox’s 2015 Dimbleby Lecture identified the question of; ‘How to get more women into technology?’ as being key to the digital future of the nation.

SETsquared is well placed to accept this question as a direct challenge and to lead the way in addressing it through the framework of entrepreneurialism.

For the last few months I’ve been leading a project that has been looking at ways that SETsquared can encourage more women to become founders of high growth, high tech businesses. Our research has mainly looked at ways in which we can attract, welcome and support the growing numbers of female entrepreneurs from the student and wider communities that we serve as a university incubator.

With International Women’s Day taking place this week (8th March) it seemed like the ideal time to share our findings.

From the very start I wanted this project to be about creating actions.

Over the past decade, the trend in innovation in tech has broadened significantly. Technology development is driven by everyday ‘problems’ and have a huge social, economic and environmental impact. So there is more imperative than ever that the diversity of the end users is reflected in terms of the founders and teams that drive technological innovation.

The initial headline figures for the number of female CEO’s in our business incubation centres didn’t make for great reading as only 10% of current SETsquared member companies are led by women. However success rates once women become SETsquared members are broadly similar suggesting that pipeline is key. The research also identified that female founders tend to be more prevalent in certain sectors eg. ed-tech, green tech and social enterprise.

What’s interesting and why I believe there is a real reason to be optimistic is when you begin to look at our metrics for SETsquared programmes that are university-based.

Around 40-50% of students that engage with enterprise programmes on campus are women; we’ve seen this with our Researcher to Innovator programme where almost a third of all applications are from female researchers.

Similarly the figures for the ICURe Innovation to Commercialisation Programme indicate a good level of engagement from women.

As a university incubator we are uniquely placed to engage with some of the nation’s top female talent in STEM related subjects, and to foster entrepreneurship as a way to upskill and facilitate engagement off campus with industry. The R2I and ICURe programmes have already shown that the appetite is there but more can be done to ensure that the same percentage of women remain engaged through to the next stage.

Here are some of the actions that we will be taking forward:

  • Marketing and imagery – our research showed that ‘female only’ initiatives aren’t very popular as they imply tokenism or a different set of criteria but what is important is the use of language and imagery in our marketing to demonstrating that SETsquared already supports female tech entrepreneurs and positively promotes existing members as role models.
  • Support and partner with organisations that are already leading the way– such as WISE; a campaign to promote women in science, technology and engineering, and initiatives like Doteveryone’s 5050 Tech Challenge (https://doteveryone.org.uk/2016/03/06/doteveryone-opens-applications-for-second-5050tech-challenge/)
  • Pre-incubation programmes – widen the ‘funnel’ to attract a more diverse pipeline of applicants, including providing ‘taster’ entrepreneurship training at flexible times such as evenings and weekends to address issues of participation arising from timing.
  • ‘Best in class’ business support – ensure that the entrepreneurship services and mentoring that we offer at our incubation centres respond to differentiators that arise from a more diverse membership base.
  • Lead by example - ensure a greater female representation in our mentor pool, on judging panels and speaking slots.

I’d love to hear your experience of being a female technology entrepreneur or perhaps you run an incubator, what initiatives have you put in place to ensure greater diversity in your membership?