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Ari Horie created Women’s Startup Lab, a female-focused accelerator in Silicon Valley, to provide a 2-week intensive and 2 month incubation for early-stage companies.  The program connects female founders with start-up mentors, advisors, leadership coaches, attorneys, venture capitalists, investors, executives, and peer founders. Featured as one of CNN's Top 10 Visionary Women in 2014 and a keynote speaker at SXSW in March 2015, Ari is passionate about helping women in technology become leaders in their industry.  Ari shares with bSmart members the secret to finding funding, how to overcome start-up challenges, and how to accelerate your business as a woman in technology.

Women’s Startup Lab is offering a $5,000 scholarship for accepted New York Tech Startup Founders when you reference ‘bSmart’ in your application.

Click here to apply for the Women's Startup Lab 2 Week Boot Camp starting February 23, 2015. 

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I brought that attitude to Women’s Startup Lab - somebody has to lead, why not you?

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Venture in the Valley

How does Women's Startup Lab help accelerate new businesses for growth or funding? 

When I was running B! Minds/MoChiGo.com, a technology company focused on creating tools for mothers and families, I found it difficult to gain the attention of male engineers because they couldn’t relate to the need for the technology.  A lot of women I spoke to felt the same way when trying to find engineers or funding to create technology solutions for family-tech, ed-tech, or caregiver-tech.

I suggested a bunch of us women get together to provide support for our ideas and businesses.  Getting together was great, but if you really want to produce amazing results there has to be accountability.  That’s when I had the idea to create a woman-focused accelerator that offers the flexibility and support needed by women in tech.  You have to completely alter your life when you launch a start-up and that can be a challenge if you’re a wife and mother.  But I thought, maybe I can help these women build the companies they want even if it requires a different start-up model with work-life integration.

I’m so proud of the success stories from Women’s Startup Lab accelerators.  Liesl Capper created Cognea, an artificial intelligence company that was bought by IBM.  Monique Giggy created Swing-by-Swing with her husband that’s being acquired by Back9Network. They’re both great role models for businesswomen and with managing their personal lives.  Liesl is a single mom and Monique has two children. Every time we have business conversations, we always have our kids together.  They play Minecraft and we talk about business over wine.

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Getting together was great, but if you really want to produce amazing results there has to be accountability.

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Why is it essential for entrepreneurs to create a supportive community and lean in, on, and lean up?

When you launch a start-up, there's so much to learn that you can get overloaded.  It’s really helpful to know people who have gone through the journey before you to show you the path to the top of the mountain (and what to do when it gets rocky).  You want to know people who are 20 steps ahead of you so that they understand the current landscape and can introduce you to the right people along the way. 

Once you’re doing well, a lot of people will approach you.  But those people will leave as soon as things get tough because they’re worried about reputation or association.  The hard moments come fast when you’re an entrepreneur and you need key relationships to stick with you during the ups and downs. 

Our motto is founded on ‘Hito,’ a Japanese character that symbolizes two people leaning on each other.  Some of our founding members say that Women’s Startup Lab is like insurance - we’re a long-term collaboration of support for when you need it.  Trust and relationships are so fundamental to business success and we work to give you those necessary relationships.

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Our motto is founded on ‘Hito,’ a Japanese character that symbolizes two people leaning on each other.

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What are the challenges unique to women in tech and venture capital funding?

6% of VC funded companies are women-led companies, yet the return on investment of those companies is 23% - a very high number.  Women’s Startup Lab focuses on giving you the gear to climb the start-up mountain.  We’re not making the path fair and clean so that you can walk it with high heels, but rather making sure your heels have jets and springs.  Money is tight in the VC world, but you can use the facts to figure out your way.

The key is in having a strong network and finding the insider person.  It’s not about the quantity of people that you know, but that you know the right people so that when he or she says ‘yes,’ they’re going to support you with their own syndicate or network.  The challenge here is that you have to be strategic.  Educate yourself to find the quality people who will get you through the closed doors.

What can women do to prepare for receiving venture capital?

Women need to show that we’re as comfortable with numbers as men are.  When guys get together they talk about stocks and investing, and when women get together they often talk about other things because that’s how we relate.  We have to make sure we’re comfortable with the numbers and know the facts when it comes to business. 

One of the biggest critiques I hear has to do with the presentation skills when women are asking for funding.  I’ve heard that sometimes women come across as apologetic in the meeting.  You have to nail the presentation.  I hear women entrepreneurs say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m ready to present’ - but you have to rise up and say ‘yes’ often before you feel confident.

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We have to make sure we’re comfortable with the numbers and know the facts when it comes to business.

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Accelerate Your Start-up

What are the traits of a successful entrepreneur?

When we look at an entrepreneur, we look for tenacity.  We’ll ask them about difficult situations and how they’ve come through them.  Within that we can see their creativity and how they network.  Do they do it alone?  Do they ask for help from their network?  What kinds of friends do they have?  That’s all a reflection of how they’re going to build a business. 

We also look to see if they’re comfortable thriving in an environment of uncertainty, failure, and risk-taking.  A desire to take risk can be low in women, so we want to know how they perceive this and how they overcome it.  You can be a rock-star entrepreneur, but at some point, you need a great team and community for scalability.  We also do a lot of education on collaboration and being open.

You can be a rock-star entrepreneur, but at some point, you need a great team and community for scalability.

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What is the key to growing a company in the bootstrap phase?

I believe in the mantra ‘fall in love with your customer.’  Instead of the ‘we’re going to be a big billion dollar company’ attitude, it’s about celebrating small milestones and constantly testing what’s going on in the market.  People’s behaviors and interests are changing all of the time with technology, so as a business owner you need to be constantly aware of the customer to have success during the bootstrapping phase.  You’re not going for a big project that could fail, rather you’re engaging in a micro-failure process where everything teaches you something. 

Fall in love with the customer, not the idea.  If you’re in love with solving a problem, then you’ll always be listening.  If you have customers, the investor will chase you, because that’s the focus.  You could have two great investors and end up having $5 million, but so many companies want big budgets and they end up falling in love with the investor and not the customer.  I often see this happen in Silicon Valley.  If you have a great idea, go out and prove it on some micro level.  If you take care of your customers, the investors will follow.

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Fall in love with the customer, not the idea. If you have customers, the investor will chase you, because that’s the focus.

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How can entrepreneurs have work-life balance?

I call it ‘work-life design.’  If you’re an entrepreneur, your personal life is involved in your business because you’ve created the company out of passion – maybe with your husband, or friends you deeply care about.  When I became a mom, I really embraced that role, as well.  As women, we witness other women tear each other apart with judgment, but I parted ways with anyone who made me feel bad as a working mom. 

I have a life where I can talk to my kids about entrepreneurship, which is so valuable for both of us.  It’s not about what you do - it’s about who you are.  That’s the essence you want to deliver to the community and your children.  Even when you’re not around as a mom, it’s a great thing for your children to see you being involved and passionate and they can learn to listen to their strengths.

Even when you’re not around as a mom, it’s a great thing for your children to see you being involved and passionate and they can learn to listen to their strengths.

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Who have been your mentors and what did they teach you?

My mom was a single parent, the daughter of a governor, who grew up in a privileged household.  But when she became divorced with a one-year-old, her family disowned her.  She had no help and had to survive on her own.  I learned from her to have my own experiences and make my own decisions.  She would tell me ‘life is not fair, get used to it, and don’t complain.’  She never blamed anything on society or men or prejudice.  She just said you have to keep doing what you need to do.

Denise Brosseau, a thought leader who teaches in California, is also a mentor.  She gives keynote talks, and wrote a book called Ready to Be a Thought Leader?.  I knew her early on and her encouragement helped me start the lab.  She had a ‘why not’ attitude.  Why not you?  If you look at my background, nothing obivous says I’m qualified to do this job.  But I got to know myself and learned that I was good at connecting people, and I love talking to people.  I brought that attitude to Women’s Startup Lab - somebody has to lead, why not you?

What is your dream for your Founder’s Circle?

Our next cohort starts in February and applications are growing to where they come in from around the world.  You can have a business and grow it locally, but there’s something about connecting with other women around the world.  It’s not just about supporting each other through business, it's about your life as whole, divorce, children, care-giving, and sick parents.  You connect through business, but also about life beyond Silicon Valley.  When something happens, you have that group that you can call for help because a personal crisis affects the growth of your company. 

One up and coming founder’s parents fell ill and she had to step back.  I don’t know if men have to deal with this as much - often women feel it’s their job to do this, so it helps to have other female entrepreneurs who’ve been through this and can give solid advice.  If the company is truly your passion, it might be worth finding someone else to take care of your parents.  Everyone else will emphasize balance and make you feel horrible about this decision.  But another entrepreneur will understand how important your business is and remind you that you have an impact on the work and your employees who you take care of, as well.  Most people don’t understand what it’s like to be a CEO, so you may feel pressure and expectation to be a primary care person at home based on the idea of ‘family first, work second.’  It’s important to have that circle of people who understand.  I want Women’s Startup Lab to be that circle of long-term support.

How can bSmart members be smart growing their tech companies?

If you’re going to be smart, you have to own it.  Own your beauty, ugliness, everything.  Don’t hesitate to invest in yourself and learn finance.  In the past, women were taken care of by their partner financially and didn’t have to be educated about investing.  Know how to manage your finances and funding.

Sort through the people around you and pick who truly knows your greatness.  My best friend says that a best friend’s job is to remind you of who you really are.  When it gets hard, you can lose yourself.  Being smart is connecting with the people who will give you strength in the business world and your personal life.  Create your community.  Choose people who remind you of who you are – they won’t pick you up, but they’ll remind you of how strong you are.

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Being smart is connecting with the people who will give you strength in the business world and your personal life.

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Spotlight on Ari Horie

Neighborhood:  Menlo Park, CA

Occupation:  Founder & CEO of Women's Startup Lab 

Women I Admire:  Trish Costello, Fran Maier 

Dream Mentors:  Jerry Colonna, Steve Case, Wendy Leah

Ultimate Accessory:  Egyptian coin neckless

Go-to Outfit:  Jeans with a Jacket & Heels

Must-have Shoes:  Manolo Blahnik

Can't Live Without Product:  What? IPhone 6, of course

Salon Recommendation:  Muse Salon by Pari

Signature Scent:  Balenciaga fr Paris

Beauty Essential:  Dailey Method Bar Exercise

Cocktail of Choice:  Asian Pear

Best Date:  Talk about social impact and innovation over wine

Travel Destination:  Lake Como, Italy

Current Craving:  Chocolate covered figs

Best Advice:  Be your best cheerleader and believe in yourself.  If you can't do that for yourself, why would you expect others to do so and invest in you?

Favorite Quote: 'If someone has to lead, why not you?' - Denise Brosseu

De-Stress Technique:  Exercise and reflection meditation

Latest Gadget:  iPod Mini

On My Playlist:  Bang My Head, Hey Mama, Black Widow, Work B**ch

Favorite App:  Uber, Shazam

University:  California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Kids:  8 & 12 boys

 

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