Successful Female Entrepreneurs and VCs Share Their Strategies for Entry and Advancement in the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Michigan is doing better than the nation as a whole in moving women into leadership positions at venture capital investment firms and venture-backed companies, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Recent industry figures show that 15 percent of the venture capitalists and 9 percent of the CEOs of venture-backed companies in Michigan are female versus 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively, at the national level.

During a panel discussion on Tuesday at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, three women who have carved out successful careers in the entrepreneurial ecosystem shared their stories and offered advice.

“Things are getting better, but in slow drips,” remarked Nicole Walker, the director of venture capital at Baird Capital. “When I entered the venture capital industry, I knew very little about the VC pathway. Increasing exposure to and awareness of what venture capital is will help women move into the ecosystem. As a woman, I look at things differently. Having women at the table increases diversity of thought.”

“I look at being female as an opportunity,” said Christine Gibbons, the CEO and president of HistoSonics, an Ann Arbor-based medical-device company. “Women in entrepreneurship and medical devices are rare, so I stand out in the crowd. That might be the one thing to help people remember me.”

Creating tight networks of women to provide mutual support is critical for entry, advancement and success, according to Amy Cell, chief matchmaker at Amy Cell, a consulting company specializing in talent acquisition. “Many women have formed deep relationships through networks to deal with mutual challenges,” she said. “It’s a misperception to say women are competitive with each other.”

The panelists offered a number of strategies to help women break into the entrepreneurial ecosystem and rise to leadership positions. These include:

  • Develop strong self-confidence
  • Be willing to take risks and move out of your comfort zone
  • Seek out a mentor who can provide career guidance
  • Use networking to build valuable contacts and open doors
  • Develop a stellar track record of personal and professional accomplishments
  • Focus attention on product quality and capital efficiency rather than gender

“No matter who you are talking to, it all boils down to respect,” Cell concluded.

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