Tech Inclusion – Feeding the Flow

I’ve just left the White House Tech Inclusion Summit. As a advisory board member for Astia, the global women’s high growth entrepreneurship accelerator, and as a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Simmons College in Boston, the topics discussed touched multiple loci where women high growth entrepreneurs live.

The high growth economy relies on a stream of talented young innovators and entrepreneurs who’ve gotten the mentoring and introduction to “discovery moments” (Eric Schwarz, Citizens Schools) that makes a vision of a future career in STEM possible. As Dr. Jan Cuny of NSF noted, the “Forgotten 70%” (women, Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, people with disabilities) just aren’t usually in the room for this crucial transmission of excitement, achievement and tacit knowledge — and we all lose out as a result. Individuals, families, businesses, cities, society have fewer options, less talent. This when, “…employment in STEM occupations is expected to expand faster than employment in non-STEM occupations from 2010 to 2020”. *

The Level Playing Institute, chaired by Mitch Kapor (inventor of the spreadsheet), is applying science and research to make a difference in the future of STEM practice through people. In his remarks, he noted the summer camp he attended where his introduction to a computer was made. Simple acts, big impact.

So, this is about kids — lots of them — who need access and inspiration. And it’s about the economy, jobs and neighborhoods. It’s also about the women high growth entrepreneurs out there plugging, and succeeding — being role models right now. We need to keep working to connect the front and center action with the pipeline.

The Summit shared seven national works in progress — new initiatives deeply embedded in private-public-government partnerships to reverse the trend that created the “Forgotten 70%” in STEM. Look for news of these initiatives soon — including the American 2020 Initiative with an audacious goal–to train 10, 000 computer science teachers in 10,000 schools by 2020. But as Kevin Eyres, an America 2020 Initiative founder says: “this is America, we’re all about audacious goals” (paraphrase).

For more information: visit (Level Playing Field Institute is committed to eliminating the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and fostering their untapped talent for the advancement of our nation.)


Immigrant Entrepreneurship in the U.S.

I’m in New York City today with my colleague and co-author, Jeff Gross, for the 9th New York University/ Stern Business School Social Entrepreneurship Conference.  We’re taking this opportunity to share our research on immigrant entrepreneurship in the context of social entrepreneurship — placing the focus on government as the social entrepreneur existing in a context, or ecosystem, that fuels immigrant business development for social and economic aims.

First, some facts:  

  • Forty million U.S. residents, or 13% of the population (2010), are now foreign born – up from less than 5 percent in 1970.
  • Foreign born residents of the U.S. start businesses at twice the rate of natives—and immigrant-owned businesses produced 16% of all business income in 2010 (up from 11.5% in 2000).
  • Skilled migrants beat college-educated natives in starting companies and commercializing technology.
  • Immigrant entrepreneurs have founded 40 percent of current Fortune 500 companies.
  • Immigrants have founded or co-founded 25 percent of all science and technology firms in the U.S.

For immigrants across the economic spectrum, starting a business is increasingly the path to economic advancement. Immigrant community stakeholders are working to keep up with and leverage this rapidly evolving social and economic reality. And here’s where it gets really interesting: the public and private sectors are active participants now working out innovative approaches that target this immigrant entrepreneurial spirit and the particular challenges that may be involved. States and cities around the U.S. are shaping “New American” programs to support community economic development and attract these business innovators.  Many see here a powerful force for simultaneously addressing immigrant integration, socioeconomic mobility, and community economic benefit.

Using organizational theories[i] we can identify a particular embeddeddness of immigrant entrepreneurs as Social Bricoleurs (creating value at the community level), Social Constructionists (value at the regional and national level) and Social Engineers (global level).  We can also identify different levels of government and their roles in making the ecosystem of immigrant entrepreneurship in the U.S. move.

Case in point: New York City.  The population of this amazing city is made up of 37% foreign born and 48% of its small businesses are immigrant owned. As social entrepreneur, the Mayor’s office partners with financial institutions, non-profits and community groups to address social and economic obstacles facing immigrant businesses, large and small. Multiple initiatives and public/private partnerships provide training and technical assistance, tax breaks, assistance developing capital, building networks and  access to markets. Efforts integrated with broader economic development plans target opportunities in specific immigrant neighborhoods and industry sectors—from food production to fashion to high tech. The purpose here is economic prosperity while advancing immigrant civil rights, civic participation and a celebration of ethnic diversity as a social, cultural and economic good.

 State/National Level: Washington. The state of Washington is one of 11 states with “New American” immigrant integration initiatives driven by community-based groups. A statewide nonprofit immigrant advocacy coalition is the lead partner with government in advancing a policy agenda of civil rights, cultural diversity, and civic engagement. A New Americans Policy Council promotes immigrant economic contributions and the value of an “untapped potential resource” to drive economic development and neighborhood revitalization. Strategies include improved capital access, streamlined regulations, and investments in microcredit, business incubators, certification assistance, and business mentoring

National Level: Federal Policies. At the federal level, the “immigrant entrepreneur” conversation focuses on expanding visa opportunities and tax credits to attract and retain foreign-born investors and technology innovators. In response to the development needs of states and communities with high unemployment, the federal EB-5 investor visa program offers a resident visa in return for significant investment and job creation. Conservative and liberal interests alike promote visa policies that reduce entry barriers for skilled immigrants and keep the businesses and jobs they create in the U.S.  But a politicized debate over comprehensive immigration reform pits different groups of immigrants, including skilled entrepreneurs, against one another as the total number of visas is limited and family reunification is the preferred status.

As  the U.S. presidential election results last night strongly demonstrated, the power of the immigrant has returned front and center to our national stage. We’re at a decisive moment of determining how policy and government initiative can turn this energy to multiple value points in a context of social entrepreneurship, which at its heart, asks for common good as a social and economic indicator. This is not how we have traditionally organized economic development that includes high growth businesses. It makes sense that we continue to makes these links to have the broadest view creating the broadest benefit.

[i]  Zahra, et al. 2009; Smith & Stevens, 2010

Simmons College Founders Day: Keynote Comments

Founder’s Day Speaker – Simmons College 2012 —To the College Freshmen 

Professor Teresa Nelson
October 30, 2012

Good afternoon, and thank you, President Drinan.

It’s a day to remember and celebrate the past…FOUNDER’S DAY….so let’s take a quick mental walk back to 1870 Boston– the year entrepreneur John Simmons created Simmons College.

If you stepped out onto a downtown Boston street in 1870, you’d likely see people in horse drawn carriages — the Museum of Fine Arts was just opening its doors for the first time. There are no cars, or electric lights (and neither would your home likely have an indoor toilet).

There are 250 thousand people living in Boston in 1870, and the city is a transportation hub for New England. The port area would be booming with ships travelling the world,  the railroads are running near and far, and the turnpikes to Worcester and Newburyport would be full – of cattle and sheep  — coming for sale in the Haymarket.

If you were a lady of means you would likely be wearing a form-fitting, long-waisted dress with a bustle, reinforced with many strips of whalebone, cording, or pieces of leather. Though you might also be of the immigrant classes, living with all of your family in one room in the North End. Likely you’d be Irish, as 25% of the city population was at this point, having fled Ireland’s potato famine of 1845.

Boston at this time was an international center for progressive thought having led the abolitionist movement into and through the United States Civil War which had just ended as Simmons College was born.

In 1870, women in Boston could not:

  • Vote or serve on juries;
  • Enter into a legal contract or own a business;
  • Control their own earnings (if they had any). The money legally belonged to their husband or father;
  • Legally hold responsibility for their children – another husband domain.

….The 1870s in New England was a time of “separate spheres” for men and women and women’s role was in the home.

STILL: There were Bostonwomen who were brave and outspoken on society’s treatment of women — of their need for education and basic civil rights. Twenty-one percent of the college population was made up of women, largely training to be teachers.  As 20% of the 39 million Americans were illiterate and Boston’s role in pushing for education across income lines was particularly robust.

There were also legions of women balancing the demands of the household, their primary responsibility, with “handwork”, the taking in of sewing for pay.

By the mid-19th century Boston was one of the largest manufacturing centers in the nation, noted for its garment production, leather goods, and machinery industries. Manufacturing had overtaken international trade to dominate the local economy…..and John Simmons, his fortune, and his legacy, is part of that story.

My colleague Jason Wood follows with some remarks on Simmons and his life, so here I’ll just say – he was a visionary in that he invested in a future – he saw an opportunity for women that many didn’t – he was an entrepreneur.

His idea of education for livelihoods for women was revolutionary.

Today we continue to interpret his legacy in the programs of the college that encourage you to:

  •  Take ownership of your future
  • Embrace your rights and independence
  • And build a meaningful career

In the language of my field, entrepreneurship, I encourage you to think of your future entrepreneurially.

At Simmons this means participating in a conversation about “Entrepreneurship for Everyone” – whether your major is nursing, English, business or social work, consider all your career options and pick what suits you now, and prepare for what might suit you later. Get the skills you need to have options, and to be successful.

Be part of John Simmons’ bold experiment for women’s empowerment and social change.

Thank you.

The Astia Women Entrepreneurs

One more post on the Astia Global Entrepreneurs program this week. You should hear about some of these women and their companies.

In no particular order….there’s Sandra Sassow from the UK. Sandra is with SEaB Energy, Ltd the investor of the MUCKBUSTER (trademarked) an automated micro anaerobic digestion system in a 40′ container which converts organic waste into energy on any site ( We’ve had a lively chat about the cultural transmission of the name of their product to U.S. markets. Lesley Silverthorn of Angaza Design ( is making a good go of a for-profit selling solar lamps to bottom of the pyramid customers in East Africa (replacing highly toxic kerosene lamps). Lesley’s credentials are very impressive:  She received her B.S. in product design and her M.S. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, and has extensive product experience, including work on the first three generations of the Amazon Kindle. Both these women are well representing the for-profit, mission driven equation — doing well by doing good.

Blaire Miller of Eaton Rapids Castings LLC has a great story to tell — a Michigan company bringing Finnish technology into the U.S. to revive the casting industry for major customers like Caterpillar. Go Michigan!! Go manufacturing U.S.!! On the customer facing side, we’ve got a company like toast ( a new venture delivering heated long underwear (yes, heated long underwear) for people who work and play outdoors.  It may sound like small potatoes until you think about potential customer groups like postal delivery people…the family snow shovelers….PLUS the 11 million U.S. skiers and snowboarders who spend on average, $115 each year on equipment. Follow-on products abound. Finally, there’s Ida Tin of Biowink — a European based company enabling women to manage their fertility using their smartphones (I’ll let you go and get on the list for updates at And many more……all with something special, all with passion.

Here’s what to know — as with any group of start-ups, not all of these will succeed. But the power of an accelerator is realizing that the bet is on the women, the entrepreneur, not necessarily on the venture in front of you. Next, know that these women are not all CEOs. Here’s Astia’s modern approach — promoting women as leaders, women in the C-suite, not necessarily majority owners (in fact, not likely majority owners). That’s the way growth businesses really work. That’s the way women high growth entrepreneurs win connections, power, success. That’s how we’ll make meaningful change in those stats on the rates of women high growth entrepreneurs that drive us crazy.

Astia Global Entrepreneurs Program, continued….

It’s Thursday morning — I am sitting in a conference room at Fenwick and West in the heart of Mountain View. Right now, top representatives of Intel Capital, Cisco, AOL, Microsoft and SAP are talking with the participating entrepreneurs helping them understand how to “Navigate Corporates”. The experts aren’t pulling any punches:

“Very often, we don’t have time to invent. That’s your advantage.”
“We can drive you into bankrupcty without intending to!”
“All companies have parades — find out what they are.”
“I talk to 100 companies a year, and invest in 3 of them.”
“Start-ups tend to negotiate on stupid things.”

There’s also another conversation going on that I find critical for entrepreneurs: “Learn to rapidly be able to navigate through who is the best person to invest in in terms of relationships.”

Too often entrepreneurs end up playing the ‘collect the business cards’ game. How many people can you meet? The vision of 1000 fish in a bowl comes to mind. Those who have been around the block know that one relationship with meaning is worth a 10 inch high stack of business cards (though an opportunity related to one of those may come up, too). I repeat: “Learn to rapidly be able to navigate through who is the best person to invest in in terms of relationships.” There are people who want to make connections — good connections — find one, then two.

And think about whether someone corporate could be one of those – now or later. Find the networks that let you meet them. Finally, remember the  best champion for you as an entrepreneur in a big company is likely to be the one you can do the most for. Listen to the executive you are talking to, and see how you can help them do what they want to do.

The Astia Women

I’m out in Silicon Valley this week participating in the Astia Global Entrepreneur Program ( as a presenter and advisor. Astia is a ‘new style organization’ — it’s not of a place (but everyplace) and not a set of bosses and employees (but a dynamic global team of entrepreneurship ecosystem members) organized and led by a band of outstanding business women headquartered in the Bay area.  The purpose of the effort is to promote, train and connect stand-out women entrepreneurs who are in the earlier stages of launching high growth ventures.

Astia has an impressive track record of results since 2003: greater than 60% fundraising success rate for companies within one year of joining Astia with more than $1B raised by presenting companies. All well, and good. The must know are the four issues behind the transparent screen that make this an organization that wins my support: 1. A ‘hallelujah, let’s see the light’ conviction that promoting successful women high-growth entrepreneurs is the work of women and men, side by side. The statistics telling us that women high growth entrepreneurs in the early stages raise one-twentieth of the cash of their male counterparts is not a ‘women’s issue’ but a ‘society issue’. 2. Sharon Vosmek. Sharon is Astia’s CEO. She’s one of those leaders (rare) who you want to line up with — who defines stretch goals (for everyone, including herself) and shares the magic that makes people want to commit, 3.  The heavy-hitter private organizations like Silicon Valley Bank who support Astia — not just with money but with golden connections — because seeing the development of women entrepreneurs in the context of sex-mixed teams is a brighter future, 4. Simply, it is the time of the woman entrepreneur — everywhere in the world. From a multiplicity of perspectives women building successful organizations is a route to a good thing. Let’s get on with it.

Women and Men – Miranda’s Take

Yesterday two things happened to remind me that we continue to be so far from understanding women in the work world, but there are some good signs of people moving the conversation forward.

I responded to a blog by Sallie Krawcheck: “Let’s Just Admit It — Women Are Different Than Men” in essence saying  — “your treatise does not concern differences between women and men but rather, differences in expectations of women and men”. Sallie had written about how she lost an hour a day on grooming demands that a man could put to better work. I countered that a man would take just as long to groom, if that was the expectation for success (likely longer as he didn’t have as much practice).

The Men v. Women debate is a no win….and frankly it’s gotten boring. First off, it’s mis-conceived — men and women are much more alike than they are different. And there are more relevant factors that categorize humans than sex, most of the time. Second, it’s a merry-go-round. We can point to statistics that show different performance by sex in sports, for example, but there are men and women at both ends of the scale. What may be most important, on average, is the sports training and encouragement boys receive as children (to pound the point home — not something biologically determined).

This brings me to Miranda Daniloff and her blog, BeyondWorkLifeBalance. Miranda and I have spent a lot of time talking about how women and men need to get past the idea that there is an answer, a solution, a definitive time defined fix. Life is complicated and the way women can put it all together given the special demands that society parks at their door on average is to recognize the juggling game that it truly is. 

I’m going to be watching Miranda as she helps us see behind that curtain.