Thursday, May 10, 2001
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.
MIT Media Lab
20 Ames Street
Sociologists have coined the term "entrepreneurial feminism"
to refer to a significant new trend -- women are opening new
businesses at a dramatically faster rate than men and are gaining
economic independence and cultural influence. Women have been
at the center of e-commerce efforts, often working out of their
own homes, and in many cases juggling child-care expectations.
This Forum brings together leading female entrepreneurs to talk
about the potentials and challenges faced by today's wired women.
founded San Francisco-based Animatrix
in 1984 where she continues as the creative lead on all projects.
She teaches interaction design at Stanford University. Morris
holds degrees from the University of California at Santa Cruz
and the University of California at Davis, and studied with
John Cage and Wayne Thiebaud.
Denise Brosseau is CEO and co-founder of the Forum
for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE) and co-founder of Springboard
Enterprises, which hosts the Springboard 2000 venture conferences.
San Francisco Women on the Web named her one of the "Top
25 Women on the Web - Leaders of the Millennium." Brosseau
earned an MBA from Stanford University and did her undergraduate
work at Wellesley College.
BROSSEAU described the challenges she faced in 1993 when
she co-founded the Forum
for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE) , a San Francisco-based
networking organization for women in business and investors.
the early and mid 1990s, only about 21 percent of top
management positions (vice president or higher) in high-growth
companies were held by women, Brosseau said, and it was
difficult for women to attract venture capital primarily
because they had no track record of securing funding,
starting up and succeeding with companies.
dot-com investment boom of the late 1990s changed that. In 1999,
as Internet funding ballooned, the percentage of women holding
top management positions increased to 41 percent, and in the
first quarter of 2000 women-led companies were getting 12.7
percent of the available venture capital, up from five percent
Today the door to venture capital has been opened to women.
In fact, FWE and Springboard.org,
its collaboration with the federal government's National Women's
Business Council, have raised more than $550 million for women-led businesses. For this trend to continue, Brosseau said, more
women must become venture capitalists themselves as their own
businesses succeed. Brosseau explained that before the year
2000, which she refers to as the "Year of the Woman Entrepreneur,"
a handful of "poster girls" received all the press
attention for running business in Silicon Valley. That changed
drastically last year, according to Brosseau, when the media
began reporting women entrepreneur success stories on a daily
If the same success can be duplicated outside of Silicon Valley
and the San Francisco Bay Area, and if successful female executives
serve as mentors for other women in business, then half the
available venture capital will be support to women-led companies in the next 20-30 years, according to Brosseau.
MORRIS, who founded the interactive design firm Animatrix
in 1984, said she was one of those "poster girls" routinely paraded out as women-in-business success stories
before the boom of the late 1990s.
Morris described her early work with Apple, Microsoft and
other digital pioneers. She said she often selected clients
in part because collaborating with cutting-edge companies
would be a learning experience for her staff of engineers
and graphic designers.
concluded by examining a website designed by Animatrix
, a graphically rich interactive website designed by Animatrix
and intended as a showcase for the company. This site includes
subpages devoted to a range of subjects: the solar system, the
history of music, U.S. history, space flight, horses, chemistry,
birds, ships, oceans. The site includes a "look
it up" section exploits interactive and hypertextual
principles, including a world map that zooms in to a continent
and locates individual countries, a flying-time calculator for
both domestic and international routes, and a tool that converts
a variety of measurements such as distance, weight and temperature
from one standard to another.
Demonstrating the link to space and the solar system from the
Morris clicked through a number of interactive features. For
example, a user can retrieve information about the planets by
clicking through a model of the solar system, or access a comprehensive
history of space flight that includes images of satellites floating
across the computer screen in a simulation of outer space. This
interactive page even permits users to build and launch a virtual
Clicking on the music link from the Sprocketworks
homepage, Morris showed a timeline of classical music in
which signature passages by composers are played when the cursor
rolls across their names. Pass the cursor across "Mozart,"
for example, and you hear the beginning of his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
Click on "Mozart," and you go to a page containing
his portrait, a brief biography and more musical selections.
Morris also demonstrated the "learn music" link, which
allows users to play a note on a piano keyboard, and then have
that note recorded as well as displayed graphically as a composer
would write it. Users can play back their compositions,
or edit them by rearranging notes before replaying them.
responded to a question from the audience by explaining
that Animatrix had retained topic specialists to work
in each area covered by the Sprocketworks site.
BROSSEAU asked her where she put all these employees
when they got together.
MORRIS explained that there had been very little "face
to face" time on the project, and most of the work
was done by telecommuters in remote locations. Eventually,
she said, everyone will be working out of their home.
I work in an incubator building full of women-led business in
California. We found that when this whole virtual-office trend
exploded, people still wanted to meet, so the building has conference
rooms you can rent so you can bring your people together. You
can rent parking spaces just for a meeting. It is great to work
at home, but it can be isolating. People do want to come together
Director of Comparative Media Studies, MIT: It has been suggested
that the reason so many women have opened more small businesses
online is this ability to work at home but remain publicly active.
What has your research found?
BROSSEAU: People start businesses for a variety of reasons.
Women who joined the Internet boom were looking for freedom,
independence and balance. They weren't finding that at big companies.
Many women started Internet business
because of the low cost of entry, but they also wanted to create
their own environment, a place where they really wanted to work.
I see a similar flow among men in what I call new-economy businesses.
It's not about doing the drone thing, it's about creating a
company that reflects your own values.
RICHARD BARBALACE: How can men encourage female entrepreneurs?
Especially if you are a male entrepreneur and you want to promote
this diversity how do you find and attract a woman to be a co-founder
in a startup?
BROSSEAU: On the FWE website, you can post positions.
That's primarily a west coast resource, but a lot of women visit
that area because you can find jobs that are startup related.
Girlgeeks.com is another site that lists opportunities for women
in cyberspace. A recent study showed that companies with gender
balance are more successful than companies without gender balance.
So if you want to create a company without glass ceilings where
woman hold positions are at all levels of the organization,
you have to start early to create that culture. It is an important
thing to strive for. If we can't help you, there are many organizations
LINDA SAMUELS: When you have an idea for starting a business,
what materials do you actually need and where do go to get money?
BROSSEAU: What kind of business do you have in mind?
SAMUELS: It is called the Science of Learning Center.
After 30 years in teaching, I want to figure out what really
works in terms of learning and improving memory at all ages.
So I enrolled in an MBA program and have begun working on this
project. But would like some guidance.
BROSSEAU: If you are in an MBA program, it is important
that you use as many of your class projects as possible to get
your business plan written. In fact, FWE was started as a class
project at Stanford by my co-founder. It's a great opportunity
to bring your classmates' brainpower to bear on what you want
to do. Another piece is to build an advisory board of people
who have done something similar. You don't want to have to reinvent
the wheel. And find someone whose skills complement your own.
Let's say are good at marketing and sales, you may need someone
who is good on the money raising side. A fourth key task is
to figure out what you need in the way of money. Until you do
that, you cannot go out and get funded. Ask yourself, what I
am trying to do here? Am I opening up a single learning center
in the first year, and want ten branches in the first year,
and 100 in the third? The answer will affect your money needs,
and how you'll get financing - whether you'll get a bank loan
or, God forbid, use your credit cards or find an equity investor.
If you are a woman, add 20 percent to what you think you need
because women tend to underestimate.
MORRIS: Yes, one of the most important decisions to make
in starting a new company is the funding model - is it a debt
model or an equity model? A debt model with a service company
is what I did. When I used my credit cards to get started, it
wasn't that much money. If you choose equity you are going to
have someone sitting on your board. You're not going to be making
decisions yourself. Your company is going to have a different
structure. You have to have an exit strategy because the people
who put money into your company want to be able to get it out.
BROSSEAU: They want it out in a short amount of time,
in fewer than ten years; sometimes less than seven.
MORRIS: There is an advantage to having that big investor
to help you along. But, if you do a debt model as I did, you
are in control. I had several offers to buy the company, and
I could have sold it. But my interest was in being a designer
and my endgame wasn't to cash out. If I had had an investor,
I might have been forced to cash out. I started my company with
a five-year plan and 17 years later I am still doing it. Not
because I am stuck, but because it's what I want to do.
DIANE BELLAVANCE: You said you wanted to be totally home-based.
How will you separate home from your work?
BROSSEAU: The question is, has she ever done that? [LAUGHTER]
Not too many entrepreneurs I know have succeeded at that.
MORRIS: I made a conscious decision to buy a house that
is big enough to do that. Now that the business is successful,
I can see how the house can serve as a conference center such
as Denise mentioned, and as a place to meet clients and
make a deal. Plus, I have moved to Southern California where
that Hollywood model lends itself to doing technology projects
BROSSEAU: There are caveats to be offered here. For years,
I have watched friends being taken over by work. Only in the
last three months have I seen people reconnecting with their
friends and families and disconnecting from their pagers
and cell phones. You have to be careful about what your own
style can be and what your personality can adjust to. I have
taken computers out of my house. I find I do need to completely
disconnect because I am a workaholic. I will work non-stop if
I don't disconnect. I don't work out of my house for that very
reason. Or, you have the other side of it: you are a small consultant
and not too busy and the television looks more interesting than
what you are doing. It can be dangerous.
MORRIS: I make sure to schedule personal time for myself
everyday. You have to set your priorities and my family and
friends come first. People say, 'you can have it all, but you
can't have it all at once.' I have been thinking about that
a lot and am not sure it is true. Maybe you can't have it all,
but you can prioritize the different aspects of your life. For
me it has always been friends and family first, my business
second. If you can keep your goals straight, I think it works.
Have you [to Denise Brosseau] ever achieved that balance?
BROSSEAU: I have never achieved it, and I don't know anybody
who has. I have seen very few people who have it all and don't
have an ulcer or a backache all the time, or aren't stressed
out. But things may be changing. How many folks did I talk to
within the last few years with business plans that were just
okay? You would tell them their plan is just okay, and they
wouldn't ask what could be done to improve it because somewhere
along the way people started thinking that anything could be
turned into a business and any business could get funding. It
was very destructive. Now, we are seeing some realism returning.
And, we are seeing some people listening and other folks who
lost businesses that could have been better if they had listened.
We are also seeing some babies thrown out with the bathwater,
a sad consequence of the euphoria over Internet businesses changing.
This return to sanity - to where not every business in the world
will make you rich, and not every job you take will make you
a millionaire - is a healthy thing.
DAVID THORBURN, Professor of Literature, MIT: Marney,
I was immensely impressed by the demonstration you gave of Sprocketworks.com.
It is rich in graphic and intellectual substance, but it doesn't
seem commercially viable. That site is informative and beautiful,
but it is hard for me to see its commercial aspects. Can you
address this problem: that some of your most creative, intellectually
satisfying and substantive projects might not be the ones that
will find a market? What if your most valuable projects don't
get commercial support?
MORRIS: It's a decision you have to make. We were aware
of the whole dot-com craze, and we could have gone into any
area, but as designers we wanted to do Sprocketworks. We had
serious discussions with major education companies about investing,
but we didn't follow through because I didn't want to work for
someone else. If I had equity partners, I wouldn't be able to
be so altruistic about things.
THORBURN: From my viewpoint, that's the most radical
and inspiring message that you have for us. Maybe this new entrepreneurial
model doesn't have to be so profit obsessed. If you have the
impulse to pursue creative projects that are genuinely satisfying
such as Sprocketworks, you're suggesting that that is a viable
way to go.
MORRIS: Sprocketworks is certainly a showcase of what interactive
design can be, and it certainly has led to other projects and
opportunities. I think every company devotes a certain amount
of resources to R&D. Also, we were very profitable on our
service side and that allowed us to do Sprocketworks. We were
fortunate, and are very happy that we created Sprocketworks.
by Brad Seawell