Ari Horie doesn’t have a women’s studies degree, and she’s not really interested in debating the politics of women in tech.
Rather, the founder and CEO of Silicon Valley’s Women’s Startup Lab began her effort to make the region more inclusive for female founders by finding a market opening.
For women entrepreneurs seeking advice beyond casual online meet-up groups, Silicon Valley is home to respected research organizations like the Anita Borg Institute and Stanford University’s Clayman Institute. Beyond that, Horie also found a few organizations looking to invest in female entrepreneurs, though she said those groups tend to help “the top 2 percent” of founders.
What Horie saw missing was a women-focused accelerator helping early-stage companies. “I don’t have certain degrees,” she said. “Bringing people together – that I can do.”
Horie, a 41-year-old marketing and product management specialist, is a veteran of IBM and several smaller companies. Most recently, she founded and led The Brilliant Minds, a Cupertino startup that focused on technology for mothers and families. Horie is currently working to grow Women’s Startup Lab full time.
Though Silicon Valley already counts several very high-profile incubators and accelerators, such as Y Combinator and 500 Startups, those programs often mirror the tech industry’s broader dearth of women. The Kauffman Foundation estimates that women make up about 3 percent of startup founders, and Y Combinator has released data showing that about 10 percent of its founders in a given round are women.
The first batch of 18 female entrepreneurs in Horie’s three-month accelerator program cycled through last year amid a flurry of women-in-the-workplace marketing campaigns spurred by Sheryl Sandberg’s book "Lean In."
That inaugural Women’s Startup Lab class — which included companies ranging from artificial intelligence startup Cognea to golf tech provider Swing by Swing — netted $4 million in combined funding. Two companies completed M&As and two inked major corporate partnerships. One startup landed in a subsequent Y Combinator round.
A native of Hiroshima, Japan, Horie developed her ideas about economic opportunity in the U.S. through what she termed “massive cultural exposure” as an exchange student in Southern California.
Since then, she has honed a philosophy focused on “Hito” — Japanese for “human” — which she brought to Women’s Startup Lab. In addition to focusing on company growth, she said the accelerator seeks individual founders with high potential.
Startups accepted into the accelerator program, which costs $4,500 and 2 percent of company equity, get access to mentors, group meetings and workspace. Women’s Startup Lab operates out of a second-floor office at Menlo Park law firm Procopio, which Horie arranged after using the firm for previous startup legal work.
Horie is taking on Silicon Valley’s broader gender gap one step at a time.
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