Big Data May Not Be Inclusive Enough

By Lucy Drummond

Before we analyze and celebrate the “insights” so far gleaned from big data, we need to look at who is analyzing and collecting the data.

In the 1980’s, research on heart attacks and blood pressure was published as a necessary read. However, only when gender-conscious thinkers approached the material did they realize that the research participants were almost all men. How could the physiological differences between males and females not warrant specific analysis, or at least, acknowledgement? Men and women have entirely different hormones, bone densities, and reproductive systems.

It turns out that gender does influence one’s heart and blood, and now health recommendations for men and women vary. Even if the variation is slight, the point is that the way the initial research was structured was not inclusive enough to reveal accurate results.

We are about to have a similar phenomenon with big data. Of course, big data is not vital like the human heart. But there are parallels to be drawn about the ways in which measurement tools are devised. If there are mostly men at the drawing board, only certain kinds of information will be recorded. We need a diverse group of people structuring the ways we measure the world.

An August 2015 article in Network World spotlighted thirteen up and coming big data analytics companies. Unfortunately, only three have a female employee. None have more than one female employee. Experfy and Interana each have one female co-founder, and DataTorrent is the only other company besides those two that even has a female employee. RapidMiner has raised $20 million, but seven out of seven of their employees are men; Snowflake Computing, which has accrued more than $65 million, has six total male employees; at $41 million, Tamr’s four employees are men.

This is not a statement condemning or blaming men. It is a call to action for those involved in big data. We are asking data scientists, analysts, managers and engineers to pause and think: are there enough viewpoints and backgrounds included in the earliest stages of structuring big data tools? Are we addressing the qualitative, in addition to quantitative stats? Valuable insights can be gleaned by assessing information in different ways. A complete and thorough rubric is the only thing that will yield accurate results.

Capital Chain Graphic

Raising Early Stage Capital: A 10 Step Guide

People with great ideas need money and resources to help them build companies and succeed. The battle for early stage capital is fierce, but understanding the nuance in the process can be helpful to more mindful targeting and an informed approach. We have outlined ten easy steps to help you evaluate what sort of capital best fits your early stage company.

1. Start with knowing what stage your company is in. Are you still in the idea phase or have you built a prototype? The further along you are the easier it will be to raise money.

2. Understand how you will make money in the future. You need at least a basic revenue plan before you seek to raise capital. What do you offer? How much will customers pay? How many customers do you need to break even, and where will you find them?

3. Decide if you need to test your idea. We recommend rewards-based crowdfunding as you can develop your idea without giving away equity. You can ask for orders of your new product and receive the cash you need for a manufacturing round. Supporters like friends and family who want to contribute to your success can also do so at a much lower level than angel or institutional investors. Crowdfunding is the first step in the chain of capital raising, as you can see on the chart below.

4. Rewards-based crowdfunding is a great way to further your business before going on to other rounds of funding. You will build an active relationship with your supporters, demonstrate traction, and have the opportunity to refine your product or mission after this experience. There is no equity given away and the process is low risk.

On Plum Alley, we have interactive technology and customer support to help you succeed in your rewards-based crowdfunding campaign.

5. Venture capitalists will ask if you have completed a successful crowdfunding campaign as part of their due diligence. Why? Because it shows you know how to sell your product, and your customers want it. The hustle on a CF campaign is easier than raising outside angel or VC money, and it shows you have the drive to succeed.

6. After you have a product and demonstrate that customers will pay, then consider angel investors. The amount angels fund will be enough for you to get your company off the ground to build a team, acquire users and get press. Choose your investors wisely. If you can find investors with domain expertise like technology, that is the best.

7. After you have built your product, have paying customers and a team, it is time to consider VC funding to accelerate your growth.  There are many sources of money but they are not equal. Beware of investors who are not aligned with your vision and offer to help but don’t deliver. Check the references of investors and VC firms. In most VC firms, the ratio of companies to VC partner is 50 to 1. You can imagine how much time they will actually spend on your company until there is a problem.

8. Outside funding is certainly powerful and will help your company grow. However, outside capital is not a business model. You need to know how you will make money in a long term, sustainable way. Data shows that out of new companies that start each year, less than 1% receive venture dollars. This is because most business are small or sustainable without raising outside VC money.

9. Small Business Loans or other special programs are an option as well.

10. Consider joining an accelerator program that will jumpstart your business. There are many accelerators that help you establish your business but they take a chunk of equity for their help. Most accelerators are intensive for 3 months. The quality of each accelerator varies and most can be helpful in making introductions to VCs. But keep in mind in an accelerator you are competing with the other members in your cohort at demo day.

If you are a female founder, we have created a chart for the sorts of programs worth considering for accelerators, angel investors, and VCs.


New York City Leads The Way

The New York City government, under First Lady Chirlane McCray and with the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), is spearheading an initiative called Women Entrepreneurs NYC. This is the first major city in America that is rolling out such a comprehensive program. The initiative is a partnership with Citi, has received endorsement from numerous government officials, and is riding off of support from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses organization.

New York City has decided to focus on women because their economic power is strong and undertapped. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2014 women controlled more than half of all personal wealth, and 73% of total household spending. However, men owned 1.5 times as many business. By fostering the participation of women in the economy as entrepreneurs, the economic gaps will be bridged and disparities lessened.

We commend this initiative, as increasing access to business skills, training, and opportunity to women at all levels of society is important to everyone’s economic success. As Maria Torres-Spring, Commissioner of SBS, says: “Investing in women entrepreneurs is a powerful tool to combat inequality and uplift families and entire communities.”

In the past decade in New York City, women-owned firms grew by 43%, whereas men-owned businesses only grew 25%. “With a population of more than 8 million residents, comprised primarily of women, the City of New York is uniquely positioned to end the gender disparity in entrepreneurship,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo in the WE NYC press release.

Both government and the private sector are needed to combat gender disparity and level the economic playing field. Initiatives like this are one part of women’s success.

A SXSW Reflection

My name is Julia Maltby and I’m the Director of Campaigns here at Plum Alley. Thursday I set off to Austin, Texas for five incredible days at South by Southwest, or SXSW.  For anyone who is not familiar, SXSW is a yearly technology festival, notorious for outstanding tech-related panels and events.  Having returned from my trip and spent some time reflecting, here is a short recap of my time in Austin.

One of the most amazing aspects of SXSW was its impressive spread of female-led panels and discussions.  Of all those I was able to attend, the one that stuck with me the most was “She’s a C Word: Lessons from Tech’s C-Suite Women,” which featured Lyft’s CMO Kira Wampler, Pandora’s CSO Sara Clemens, and BlogHer’s CEO Lisa Stone.  My biggest takeaway from this panel was that if women want to advance in their careers – especially within the tech space – they have to start asking more of their families outside of work.  If women continue to do more than 50% of the work at home, they’re doing their careers, and accordingly themselves, a disservice.  One of the suggestions proposed by the panel to help alleviate this issue is for men holding prominent positions within companies to make a point of leaving the office “on time” to take care of familial obligations.  This action will set a standard that it is okay to have commitments outside of work, and may encourage other fathers and husbands within the company to do the same.

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Considering many of the panels I attended at SXSW were around female entrepreneurship, the audiences were generally filled almost exclusively with woman.  However, the more time I spent at SXSW, and the more panels I attended around topics not specifically pertaining to women, the more I noticed female-led panels provided a highly unrealistic sample set of SXSW’s gender breakdown.  Based on my observations, there seemed to be at least two or three men to every woman in the overall crowd at SXSW.  Again, this breakdown varied somewhat depending on panel content.  But for the most part, unless the topic of a panel was specifically centered around women, you could count on two hands how many females were in the audience.


Another gender-related issue I noticed at SXSW was the responses to questions asked by women, versus those asked by men, during the Q&A portions of panel discussions led by men.  I want to preface this observation by stating that SXSW offers thousands of events and panels, of which I only attended a small subset.  That being said, at several of those I was able to attend, when a woman asked a tech-related question it was answered in way that seemed slightly high-and-mighty or belittling.  One male panelist even answered a woman’s completely informed and appropriate question with a dismissive, “Let’s stay on topic, please.”

My last critique of SXSW, which I somewhat already alluded to, was the lack of men in attendance at female panels, or at panels where gender-related issues were the topics of conversation.  If gender equality and representation are going to improve in the tech space, men have to be willing to be a part of the conversation.  A big thank you to all the male allies that did attend female led panels or panels around gender equality.  But, to all the others, please consider taking a more active role in joining in on these critical conversations.

Overall, SXSW was unquestionably an eye opening experience.  Although many of my reflections were unfavorable, the good news is that Plum Alley is living the solution.  We encourage female entrepreneurs to come forward and launch a campaign, as well as women and men capable of supporting female entrepreneurs to step up and fund projects on Plum Alley.

Julia Maltby

4 Days Left: Smart Women, Smart Ideas

One of the great things about crowdfunding is that creators can get proof from the community that there is interest in their project. That has happened for the project Smart Women Smart Ideas—SWSI. They reached their funding goal in the first 30 days on Plum Alley and are able to seek additional funding before the deadline of their funding on December 22nd. The creators Suzette, Marci and Heidi have released new rewards including two 7-day vacations in Mexico. Fund their live show for women entrepreneurs and also go to Mexico! Smart Women Smart Ideas is a reality show about women entrepreneurs (think TV show Shark Tank, minus the sharks) who pitch their companies to investors with hopes to obtain funding.

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They have a stretch goal of $30k to make their pilot production even better, and are seeking your support during their final 4 days! For every dollar they receive over $25k, they will donate 5% to Kauffman FastTrac to fund scholarships (full or partial) for women to take entrepreneurial FastTrac courses around the country. If that’s not enticing, Mexico Vacations to Cancun or Playa del Carmen are available at higher contributions.

For a sneak peek at some “Smart Women” videos, profiling the Founders of Flywheel, Plum Alley and the former head of Rachael Ray Digital, you can visit SWSI.