“There are a lot of great women investors in Upstate, so let’s get them on board. We want to have some women bosses.”
— Chuck Stormon, Managing Partner at StartFast
Chuck Stormon, entrepreneur, investor, and Managing Partner at StartFast Venture Accelerator has a long list of startup founders he’s mentored. For the past 5 years, the Syracuse based accelerator has enabled emerging entrepreneurs to get focused and secure capital, with help from a robust mentorship network that includes experts in healthcare, manufacturing, and even online gaming.
While the format of the program seems to be somewhat standard for an accelerator, there’s a big difference that sets it apart from the rest: gender parity.
“When we set out to create StartFast, we had to ask ourselves ‘the why,’ and discover our core values. The main ‘why’ was to help entrepreneurs, to get investors interested and committed, and finally, to make great returns,” says Stormon. “That last point is important, because there was Kauffman study released about women entrepreneurs, and it revealed that women led companies yield higher returns from investors, with 33% more on average. So we wanted to aim for at least gender parity in the companies we invested in.”
With more resources and support available to female entrepreneurs and social movements geared toward encouraging women in tech fields, Stormon says he was surprised when his ambition for StartFast was met with resistance.
“The general theme was ‘you’re not going to be able to do that,'” he says, relaying the concerns raised about achieving gender neutrality with StartFast. “Then we heard people say they thought we’d be lowering our standards. We didn’t. We raised our standards.”
StartFast has had 4 cohorts with over two dozen teams, and an equal mix of male and female founders. Though it’s too soon to determine the overall success, early signs suggest returns for the woman led companies will be significant. Three out the four top companies the program has produced have female CEOs who are raising capital everywhere from NYC to China.
Stormon dismissed entertaining any theories behind the gender gap in tech and investing, a question raised given the success of these companies not translating into more women tech entrepreneurs. “When I was in college, there were two women in my computer engineering class, and they both changed majors before the end of the year,” he says. “I wish I knew why, but I don’t. There’s lots of theories about why women choose different careers, and all the pressure that’s put on them. I’m more interested in just fixing it. So that’s what I’m focused on.”
Part of Stormon’s vision for empowering women entrepreneurs is encouraging them to code. StartFast Code, co-led by fellow StartFast Managing Partner Nasir Ali, is a 12-24 week long course with the first class beginning June 2. “We’re taking our philosophy of gender parity to this course, and are offering that any woman who enrolls in the full stack developer course gets half off the tuition,” says Stormon.
While Stormon has found ways to empower female entrepreneurs, there’s still a gap with StartFast’s investors–virtually all are men. In search of investor equality, he’s encouraging female investors to consider partnering with StartFast.
“Gender shouldn’t be an issue, and tech is way behind in that regard. Investing isn’t way behind, but we need more women in the StartFast limited partners group, definitely. There are a lot of great women investors in Upstate, so let’s get them on board. We want to have some women bosses,” he adds.
To learn more about StartFast, visit www.startfast.net. For more information on StartFast Code, check out www.startfastcode.com.