Ask Maci Peterson Philitas, CEO and co-founder of On Second Thought, if she imagined her technology as a business solution, the answer is "no. Absolutely not."
Debuting as a delay and recall application for text messages, On Second Thought pivoted to B2B in 2018. The company licenses SDKs and APIs for a monthly fee, per user per month for a messaging customer and per recall per month for a payments customer.
On Second Thought's roadblock as a consumer app was how to monetize and spread the offerings so customers could fix messages across platforms. Moving to B2B allowed the company to build a service available cross-platform and create a revenue stream with enterprise licensing, Philitas told CIO Dive.
Iconic stories of founders center around consumer offerings, tales from Apple and Snapchat. But the gap in business technology entrepreneurship is enhanced when gender diversity is added to the equation.
Women gravitate to building products they are close to and know, Gretchen O'Hara, VP of go-to-market strategy, One Commercial Partner Organization at Microsoft and co-founder of Women in Cloud, told CIO Dive. Exposure to enterprise solutions requires going back into universities and showing students market opportunities.
There is a large mentorship component and critical to getting women to build technology products is helping them stay in STEM and graduate into the field, building mentorship and sponsorship along the way, she said.
Pathways to creating business technology offerings are not always clear. Founders consider the world around them when building solutions. Unless they have experience in enterprise, it's difficult to imagine solutions to solve business problems.
The gender gap is particularly glaring in entrepreneurship. Female founders received 2.8% of venture capital investment in 2019, according to data from Pitchbook. If a company has a male and female founder, that number jumps to 12%
If industry could reach gender parity across access and investment, there's potential for a $5 trillion boost to the economy, said O'Hara.
One of Microsoft's core tenets is diversity and inclusion. Industry cannot solve top tech challenges without diverse perspectives, said O'Hara. That includes technology development, partnerships and the channel.
Solving the gender gap at the highest levels
The gender gap widens based on seniority; women comprise only 36% of senior private and public sector officials globally, according to the World Economic Forum's 2020 global gender gap report. Only 18% of businesses are led by women.
When breaking out the gender makeup by job globally, women hold a much smaller portion of the job market in cloud computing, engineering and data and AI, according to WEF data. Gender parity is closer in marketing, content production and people and culture.
Efforts are underway to close the gender imbalance in technology leadership.
Last week, Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda Gates company, announced an initiative to increase representation and leadership of women in technology in U.S. tech hubs, starting in Chicago. Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities' goal is to connect women across experience levels, from college students to founders and investors, creating innovation hubs to foster gender diversity in the field.
Other groups focus specifically on gender diversity among entrepreneurs. Women In Cloud is a community-led group focused on female tech entrepreneurship, helping female founders and business leaders grow their companies and create market access.
"Women in tech entrepreneurs are being left behind," said Chaitra Vedullapalli, co-founder and CMO of Meylah and a member of the Women in Cloud network, in an interview with CIO Dive. If men and women are given equal opportunity in building tools for business, it can significantly impact global GDP.
The group is founded on three pillars:
Building a community network, so when women build solutions they can tap into the larger community. The goal is to offer enterprise companies "equal competition and equal access," said Vedullapalli.
Providing access to cloud hyperscalers and accelerators. It allows the member companies to co-sell and co-build on Microsoft.
Focusing on public policy and advocacy to remove language bias in business contracts.
Women in Cloud offers a six-month accelerator program for women-led business, providing founders access to Azure credits, networking, mentorship at Microsoft and other technical resources.
The accelerator requires proven and vetted solutions before products can become co-sell ready and part of the Azure marketplace, said O'Hara. Following the accelerator, business owners have a book of business and opportunity.
In six months, one of the accelerators has created $50 million in economic activity and developed 24 solutions in the marketplace, she said.
Many organizations focus on community building and networking, but the difference with Women in Cloud is its dedication to making the cloud more accessible to women led technology businesses, according to O'Hara. The group helps open up the sales channel from enterprise to the SMB space.
The network is everything
Successful entrepreneurship is all about networking, where founders position themselves in a market with peers to gain clients and expand business offerings. This is easier for some.
Having spent more than 20 years in corporate America, Sabina Saksena, founder and CEO of Cytilife, leveraged personal networks to land pilots for the companies Smart Campus offerings. The technology, driven by IoT and AI, offers campus visibility, from food court wait times to live library availability.
It took almost a year to land the first pilot with Georgia Tech, said Saksena, in an interview with CIO Dive. From there, it's about mining the network of ecosystems and entrepreneurs and capitalizing on client references.
She sees paths to success as stemming from talent and ability. "I personally did not, I think, face any obstacle because I was a woman and a minority woman," Saksena said. It's the same in the entrepreneurial world.
Saksena has focused on what she has to do in business. When she was trying to raise money two years ago, the struggle came from how early Cytilife was in the market, not her gender.
Selling business technology also poses a new challenge. The sales cycle is longer and often takes a longer time to deploy. For some founders with prior enterprise experience, this is a natural fit.
Yamini Bhat, co-founder of mobile sales assistant solution company Vymo, business technology was a natural segue from her time at McKinsey where she worked mostly on large-scale enterprise transformation.
Clarity on who the customer is allows for companies to build around their needs. As it grew, Vymo kept building to support customers, Bhat told CIO Dive. By the time Bhat and her co-founder were ready to hire Vymo's first employee, it had built a revenue stream, which took time to get right and generate support.
Once the business caught momentum, Vymo held an initial fundraising round in 2016. In total, the company has raised $23.5 million, which has fueled its expansion, growing its APAC team and allow the company to grow in the U.S. too.