New TEDCO Task Force Created to Improve Venture Capital and Support Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs

The world-cup winning U.S. women’s soccer team and any number of 2020 presidential candidates have kept the gender pay gap front and center in recent 24-hour news cycles. 

In Biotech, where Female executives are a rarity, the gender gap issue has garnered much public scrutiny as well.  Separate issues at the 2016 the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco and the 2018 BIO International Conference where female models were hired for industry events have lead to industry wide efforts to make changes. Little progress has been made according to a recent BioPharma Dive analysis of 180 leading biotechs that found just 15 were led by women last year.

The disparity in opportunity between women and men also manifests itself within the innovation economy. For women entrepreneurs and CEOs seeking support and funding for their startup businesses, the gender gap has expanded into a gender funding chasm, particularly for female entrepreneurs in tech-related fields. 

The Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), Maryland’s leading tech economic engine, recently announced the formation of a Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs to tackle this support and funding gap head on. The Task Force’s mission is to “…assess the challenges that women entrepreneurs in Maryland face when accessing capital and implement strategies to overcome those challenges.”

The Task Force, chaired by Myra Norton, is dedicated to the recruitment, funding and operational support of women-owned and led startups in Maryland. 

“I am honored to be a part of this important innovation ecosystem initiative. One of the main reasons I joined TEDCO’s Board of Directors was to help build a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. To achieve that aim, we must ensure that women entrepreneurs and women-owned startups in Maryland have equal opportunity to obtain funding and support. This task force is another great step in that direction,” stated Norton, Founder and COO of Arena.   

The challenges faced by women CEO and entrepreneurs are deeply rooted and manifold. And some of these challenges come from unexpected sources. 

A 2018 study showed that a mere 10% of all global venture dollars went towards solely women-owned startups while 83% of all global venture dollars went to men-owned startups. The disparity is remarkable on its face, but is even more so when one considers that these percentages represent an improvement over prior years. What’s more, the percent of global seed dollars that went to women-owned startups was 6% compared to 80% received by men-owned startups.

The venture capital world has always been dominated by men. Even today, only 11% of American venture investors are women, according to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article featuring Jess Lee, the first woman partner at Sequoia, one of the most prestigious venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. Sequoia was founded in 1972. 

The Bloomberg story cites blatant sexism, implicit gender bias and subtle disrimination as challenges that Lee—and other female VCs trying to make their way—continue to face. Women CEOs and entrepreneurs face similar challenges when trying to obtain funding and support for their businesses.

This is another outstanding initiative by TEDCO. I am thrilled to see this type of support for the entrepreneurial ecosystem—especially for women entrepreneurs. I read that ‘The task force is dedicated to the recruitment, funding, and operational support of women-owned and-led startups in Maryland’ to that I say, ‘Yes, yes, and yes!!’”, stated Deborah Hemingway, CEO of Leon Scientific. 

This is why TEDCO’s Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs is groundbreaking and critical to the continued growth of the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR). 

To many, it’s no surprise that this initiative is being lead by TEDCO, an investment firm that is known for the impact made by their many women leaders who oversee several key funds and programs.Those women leaders include: Jennifer Hammaker, TEDCO’s VP of Business Development; Dr. Arti Santhanam, the Executive Director of the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) Fund; Angela Singleton, Manager, Pre-Seed Builder Fund, Dr. Amritha Jaishankar, the Associate Director of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund; and Tammi Thomas, TEDCO’s Vice President of Marketing. 

As more women start tech businesses and succeed in the VC world, these challenges will start to recede, as these successes work to disrupt these negative aspects of the tech startup and VC cultures. Today, however, these challenges are active and can have devastating impacts on women entrepreneurs. 

The creation of the new Task Force stemmed, in part, from a 2016 TEDCO study into underserved entrepreneurs. TEDCO launched the Minority Business Pre-Seed Fund as a result of this study; this fund eventually became the Builder Fund, which was recently allocated $1 million in Governor Hogan’s 2020 budget to expand funding for startups run by entrepreneurs that self identify as socially or economically disadvantaged.

“This task force is something that we at TEDCO have been looking to implement for some time. We have had great success with TEDCO’s Builder Fund, which financially and operationally supports Maryland startups run by entrepreneurs who self-identify as socially or economically disadvantaged, and we are excited to apply the lessoned learned there to this task force,” added Jennifer Hammaker, Vice President of Business Development at TEDCO.

From left to right :
Row 1 – Tina Williams-Koroma, Laura Neuman, Amy Millman, Lisa Smith
Row 2 – Kyp Sirinakis, Ben Sigel, Ava Pipitone, Myra Norton
Row 3 – Julie Lenzer, Johnetta Hardy, Jennifer Hammaker, Margot Connor, Jeff Cherry

Spearheading these efforts, with the full support of the TEDCO management team, are the following Task Force members:

  • Tina Williams-Koroma, TCecure
  • Laura Neuman, Entrepreneur
  • Amy Millman, Springboard EnterprisesTina Williams-Koroma, TCecure
  • Lisa Smith, Bowie Business Innovation Center
  • Kyp Sirinakis, Epidarex Capital 
  • Ben Sigel, Mintz Levin
  • Ava Pipitone,
  • Myra Norton, Arena
  • Julie Lenzer, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Johnetta Hardy, Bowie State University – Entrepreneurship Academy
  • Jennifer Hammaker, TEDCO
  • Margot Connor, RoosterBio, Inc.
  • Jeff Cherry, Conscious Venture Lab

TEDCO’s Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs is on a mission to ensure that women entrepreneurs and women-owned startups have the same opportunity as their male counterparts to obtain the funding and support that is essential for growth and success. This  groundbreaking program has the potential to grow the BHCR biohealth ecosystem in new and profound ways while also serving as a national model for empowering women entrepreneurs in tech and other industries.

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