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Building A Network Of Female Entrepreneurs In The Reno-Tahoe Startup Scene

As the startup boom gains steam in Reno, some female business leaders are working to ensure that women-led businesses are an important part of the scene. Reno Public Radio's Amy Westervelt joined them at a recent networking event to find out more.

“So thank you for being here and what we’ll go ahead and get started is have each of you introduce yourself, tell us what you’ve been up to since the last brekkie, and also ask for help. So what can we do to help you with an event, a product, service or endeavor so that you can play big?”

That’s Lauren Klein, CEO of Girlmade, which hosts various events around Reno aimed at supporting female entrepreneurship. Twice a month, local businesswomen  meet up for what’s called Brekkie for Bosses. They talk shop, share triumphs and challenges, and then comes the ask.

"So, you can help me by coming to our event up in Truckee, or tuning in to the livestream."

Rachel Arst McCollough, who runs her own web marketing firm in Truckee, is a co-founder of the monthly event series Silicon Mountain. The group just got a sponsor to help livestream its meetups, so McCollough wants to make sure people tune in.

McCollough is one of about 20 women seated at a long table at Two Chicks in Midtown, Reno, giving their updates one by one.

Amy DeCew is up next. She's a designer working on growing her sustainable fashion label, Lily of the Valley Isle. "I'd like to connect with people who know about manufacturing. Also, I think I just need more brains on the issues of marketing, advertising, sales because I think the paths I’ve pursued, that are pretty typical for the fashion industry, require such a high-dollar investment."

After each ask, everyone jumps in with suggestions – people to meet, resources to check out, ideas for funding. That’s part of what makes the all-female group work, according to Adryenn Ashley, founder of Crowded Reality, a crowdsourcing platform for the entertainment industry.

“I can roll out of bed with no makeup on. The women here are the best of the best in every industry, it’s like the ultimate mastermind. Every single time I’ve needed something, the person has always been here at the moment, like the universe just conspiring on my behalf. So, just show up.”

It’s testimonials like that that made Girlmade CEO Klein buy the company last year. As the mother of two teenage girls, Klein says her interest in Girlmade was initially sparked by its Girl Empire event, which brings around 100 middle and high school girls together with local professionals for a day of leadership training and skills building. But she quickly came to realize a growing need for support of local female entrepreneurs in general.

“There’s this assumption that it’s already been done by a man, therefore that women wouldn’t move forward to something on their own. Or there’s not the immediate confidence that I could probably do it better even if it was done. So why is that?”

It’s not just a Reno problem. Despite recent gains, less than 5 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies are women. Women are also far less likely to get capital investment than their male counterparts. The United States government has never met its goal of awarding 5 percent of federal contracts to women-owned businesses.  Klein says the gender gap is particularly apparent in the high-tech industry, where women struggle to get the venture funding and CEO roles that their male counterparts access regularly.

“I’m particularly interested to see women in high-growth startups. When you look at boards, the numbers of women are growing and increasing, but … we can do better.”

Beyond the various Girlmade events and workshops, the Reno-Tahoe area in general is becoming an increasingly supportive environment for female entrepreneurs. Startup pitch competitions aimed at women are not infrequent, the city of Reno has provided seed money to female-led startups, and the area is home to one of the country's handful of Women Who Code meetup groups.

That all bodes well for a more inclusive Reno-Tahoe startup scene. And as Klein puts it, “If we truly want to engender different thought and be diverse, we have to be more inclusive.”

Amy Westervelt is a former contributor at KUNR Public Radio.
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