Tampa Bay Wave, Embarc Collective launch initiative to support women-led startups

Tampa Bay Wave and Embarc Collective are partnering on a new initiative to better empower local female-led tech startups, the TechWomen Rising Accelerator.

With a focus on creating a pathway for Florida-based, women-led startups to expand and thrive, the program will provide participants with the knowledge and skills to grow their businesses, introduce Founders to potential investors and team them with experienced mentors. Applications are being accepted through July 21.

In February, JPMorgan Chase announced a two-year $500,000 philanthropic commitment to Tampa Bay Wave and Embarc Collective to encourage and increase opportunities for women-owned tech startups.
Funds will be equally-split between the organizations and, as successful partners do, Wave and Embarc are divvying up responsibilities based on each other's strengths to allow the TechWomen Rising Accelerator and its outcome to make a lasting impact. Wave will launch the accelerator program, and Embarc will conduct the research portion.
Linda Olson, President of Tampa Bay Wave, and Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, say they share the same concerns and goals for the representation of women-led startups in the Florida region.
"There is a lack of overall startup volume needed to grow here significantly and women are vastly underrepresented in the ecosystem," says Olson. "As we started having these conversations with JPMorgan Chase and Embarc, it just seemed to be a natural fit to put the power of two organizations behind this effort. It's too big of a problem for one organization to think they can solve it on their own."

Olson says that U.S. women-led tech startups with at least one female founder receive only 16 percent of total venture capital in their first round of funding. In contrast, startups with all-female founders receive only 2.5 percent. Narrow down to the state of Florida, and despite its third-largest population and all of the talent and resources, startups receive a dwindling percentage of the country's venture capital annually.

"Add a layer if you're a woman trying to lead one of these companies, and you're fighting over crumbs for investment capital in this state," says Olson.

The TechWomen Rising Accelerator aims to increase the funding percentage by empowering women-led startups and show them investment and peer support is accessible.
Where the real problem exists, says Olson, is in the earliest stages of raising their first round of capital.

"Seeing that's where the biggest hurdles are,'' Olson says, "we tried to design this program in such a way so that we are working with women-led companies in those stages."

"It's not just about capital, but certainly capital tends to be some of the necessary oxygen that these tech startups need to thrive and grow," she says. "We want to help create solutions around that."

Beyond bringing in outside capital, one of the desired outcomes of this program is to mobilize additional funding options in the state of Florida for women-led startups.

"The long-term vision is that we don't have to host a program for women anymore because we've addressed the gap between the investments that women-led startups receive compared to their male-led counterparts; that we've figured out how to overcome the barriers that caused the need for this collaboration in the first place," says Olson.

"Women aren't looking for a crutch; they're not looking for excuses," Olson continues. "You look at the data, and it's screaming something's broken somewhere. Women want to have an equal shot. They want to get to bat and have an opportunity to swing. If we can figure out how to reduce barriers, and we can correct the ratio, then that's a home run."

Olson says it's better to have applied than never to have applied at all, and she couldn't be more encouraging about putting aside any inhibitions and taking the plunge.

"I don't want someone not to apply because they're afraid they're not ready yet. Let us help make that determination," Olson says. "By applying, if it helps us better understand the community, maybe we can figure out other resources for them as well."

Creating a network of peers

Shenoy echos Olson's sentiments. "Don't self-select out if you're a prospective applicant," Shenoy adds. "There's a need for volume and to increase the pipeline of new companies that are emerging, led by women in this region. This is an opportunity for us to start bringing in more women to the table. Even if you have figured everything out, apply. You'll learn from the experience even if you're not in the cohort. We want to know about these companies. We want to be able to offer support in some way, shape, or form to anybody who is putting their hands up and saying, 'Hey, I'm interested in getting help.'

"To create that network of peers who understand and can support you and give you ideas is incredible," says Shenoy. "To see the power of the cohort when it comes together, it's a bond that doesn't go away. I would imagine that some of the bonds that will form because of the accelerator will last a lifetime, which is really exciting. It's just part of the measure in terms of impact, but it's impact that we definitely feel."

Another way that Tampa Bay Wave is supporting the local tech community is through its Rising Tide Relief Fund.

Many businesses are struggling to find financial relief during this pandemic. Due to the influx of federal and small business loan applicants, the process for receiving funding is painstakingly slow. Observing this issue with several of the startups Wave works with prompted the fund to be initiated. Wave immediately assesses applications and, thanks to collective community giving, has the means to distribute loans locally to startups struggling financially.

For information on qualifications and how to apply, visit Wave's relief fund page.

If you'd like to support the Rising Tide Relief Fund, text #26989 using keyword WAVE or follow this link to donate.

Read more articles by Allison Koehler.

Allison Koehler is a Cleveland-area native who now lives in Tampa by way of Detroit. She resides in Seminole Heights with her partner, Phil, and three children -- one human and two cats. When she isn't writing, she's watching pro football, listening to music, or streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime.