Up and Comers
Written by Heather Wagner Reed
About 'Up and Comers':
FoundingAUSTIN magazine together with Juice Consulting founder and CEO Heather Wagner Reed are thrilled to present the new Up and Comers podcast, created to cover Austin’s startup boom. Wagner Reed’s passion for and connections to the startup and accelerator scene naturally complement the mission of foundingAUSTIN founder and publisher Dan Dillard, who is working to provide his audience insight into Austin’s flourishing businesses and into the organizations that support them. Up and Comers features guests in conversation with Wagner Reed on the latest in Austin innovation. “I am so excited to lead Austinites on a journey through the local startup world,” host Heather Wagner Reed says. “We are truly lucky to live in one of the most vibrant, pioneering, socially conscious, and entrepreneurial cities in the U.S.—it’s a great moment to shine a light on all the innovation that is happening here.”
From 'Up and Comers'
This month on Up and Comers, we interviewed self-described serial serial entrepreneur, Executive Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Texas, and founder of Women@Austin Jan Ryan as well as Lisa Graham, owner and founder of Notley. Women@Austin is joining Notley’s social impact ecosystem for their next chapter of growth.
Tell us more about Women@Austin—what is it exactly?
The mission of Women@Austin is simple: to accelerate the success of female founders in Austin and central Texas. Through a network of trusted connections, women founders are empowered to break the old rules and become better equipped to launch and scale their businesses. Because entrepreneurship in our society has been shaped by a masculine norm historically, women often face hurdles that are very different than those experienced by their male counterparts. Women@Austin has become a go-to organization in the last four years for women in the local ecosystem for mentoring and equipping women with increased access to funding sources, with a growing network of now 1,000 strong.
What made you launch this group?
I founded Women@Austin in 2014 because I couldn’t find enough women entrepreneurs to hang out with! I’m a serial entrepreneur, and when my last company Social Dynamx was acquired in late 2012, I had a strong desire to give back to women who are on this journey. Our first event, which we held at Capital Factory, sold out in less than 24 hours! We clearly had hit a nerve—Austin women entrepreneurs wanted (and needed) community.
What does it mean to scale the impact of women entrepreneurs in Austin?
Women@Austin remained a 100 percent volunteer-led company up until September 2018. Scaling the impact of women starts with scaling the resources available to them, which is why Women@Austin joined Notley’s social impact ecosystem of companies in September for the next chapter of growth. We knew it was time for more structure if we wanted to go broader to amplify our impact.
At Notley, we believe in the benefit of scaling social and nonprofit innovation with social entrepreneurship and responsible business.
Scaling the impact of women creates immense economic and social value in Austin. There is no greater opportunity than women. Not only do women-led companies create a higher return but companies with gender diverse management teams exhibit increased profitability. Women also invest a larger percent of their income back into their families.
By scaling the efforts of women, we create even great positive change in communities around the world.
What type of programming do you offer? How do you support female-led businesses?
Women@Austin serves as an essential meeting place for women entrepreneurs to do everything from find their next co-founder and receive important introductions, to engage with mentors and role models.
Women@Austin currently operates quarterly events including Venture Dinners where we connect local VCs with female founder, and Roundtable events with featured guest speakers. Our next round tables are Dec. 6 and Jan. 16.
What particular challenges do you see women facing these days?
Women entrepreneurs at all levels are still lacking much of the support they need to be successful. Often this takes the form of difficulty in securing capital or being taken seriously by investors. The list of hurdles is much longer though and includes finding technical co-founders and staff, validating their product-market fit, gaining operational expertise, navigating growth pains, creating a healthy company culture and much more.
What will make Austin the most accessible, supportive city in the nation for women-led businesses?
I like to say equality is a team sport, and that is so true here. If we’re to make Austin the most accessible, supportive city in the nation for women-led companies we must unify our efforts in order to 1. go broader and deeper in terms of the impact women-led companies can have and 2. amplify the number of programs and resources we’re making available to women in order to achieve this shared vision.
Notley's team has already taken over much of the daily oversight and event-based production for Women@Austin, bringing a new level of operational excellence to the organization. Notley is actively surveying Austin’s community of women entrepreneurs and will be using the insights they gain from the survey to develop and roll out new resources and programs.
We both believe women entrepreneurs represent an immense opportunity to create economic growth and positive social change.
We’re also both aligned on our joint mission to make Austin the Social Innovation Capital™—meaning the centerpoint where financial, human, and knowledge capital work together to fuel the future of community impact.
The addition, Women@Austin is a continuation of Notley's history of championing women entrepreneurs and leaders. Not only is Notley the lead investor of The Refinery, a creative coworking community founded by Hayley Swindell and home to numerous women-owned companies, Notley has also led investments in local, women-led companies including Wondercide Natural Products, and Kammok and Ceresa.
What is next for Woman@Austin?
As the community of women entrepreneurs in Austin has grown, the needs of this community have evolved. For this reason, Women@Austin is actively surveying women entrepreneurs—both aspiring and active—to better understand the needs and gaps in resources that women entrepreneurs experience today.
We’ll also be rolling out new programs and events in 2019 as a result of what we learn from the survey. Stay tuned as we will have many exciting updates to come after the new year!
What is next for Notley?
Notley is building a new type of organization that leverages entrepreneurial and business principles to achieve large-scale community impact. We’re creating a new approach to philanthropy that is about more than donations, but considers scalability, sustainability, new types of capital sources, iteration, experimentation and continuous improvement.
We call it Social Innovation Capital®—financial, human, and knowledge capital that fuels the future of community impact. Notley now has a full-time staff of 20 and we hold dozens of for-profit investments, social impact investments, and real estate investments. We also operate a 15-building campus in East Austin for socially innovative nonprofits called the Center for Social Innovation; Relay Coworking, a coworking space for social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations; and The Refinery, a coworking and event space for Austin’s community of creative female entrepreneurs located in downtown Austin. We are developing a roadmap for how to build Social Innovation Ecosystems that is being applied first in our hometown of Austin and will scale to other communities.
We are operating and scaling multiple nonprofit organizations like Philanthropitch, Startup Games, and Student INC and bringing them to new cities like Denver, Columbus, Atlanta, San Antonio and Philadelphia. We are investing in new areas for impact like female entrepreneurship through Women@Austin as well as the arts, and social entrepreneurship.
As the Executive Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Texas, how does your work at UT intersect with Woman@Austin?
I love investing in the next generation of entrepreneurs! When Social Dynamx, my last company, was acquired in 2012 I knew this was where I wanted to have the most impact going forward. Last year, UT asked me to build a program to bring entrepreneurship to creatives across campus, housed in the new Design and Creative Technologies school, but I did not realize what opportunity there would also be for women in this initiative. For example, in the Spring I’ll be debuting a first-ever class called “Women in Entrepreneurship “ that is being designed from the woman’s perspective, and which will be surrounded by mentors who can help students overcome barriers unique to the female entrepreneurial journey. We are starting a true movement on campus, and all these initiatives fit well together.