The rise of mobile technologies has made a lot of money for telecom companies, but has also opened up an entirely new space for app development and small-time entrepreneurship. Business blogger Abigail West highlights a few of the women who are revolutionizing this space, turning what was once a man’s world into a virtual playground for good ideas from nearly any corner. Also in Abigail’s portfolio is a web guide to the best online MBA programs of 2012; the expertise she gleaned on that project gives credence to her piece today.
For decades, the technology industry has been characterized as a “boy’s club” comprised of numerous male entrepreneurs peppered with the rare prominent female figure. In recent years, however, the role of women in this highly innovative (and lucrative) sector has been much more pronounced — and today, some of the nation’s most cutting-edge tech startups are led by female entrepreneurs.
In a recent Huffington Post article, Lynn-Anne Gries, founder and chief investment officer of JumpStart, noted some of the disparities between men and women in today’s business world. While women earned roughly 60 percent of all master’s degrees and more than half of all doctorate degrees awarded during the 2008-09 academic year, only three percent of that year’s Fortune 500 companies boasted a female CEO. In 2008, women owned half of all private businesses in the United States; however, only three percent of them led high-growth companies (those that generate annual revenue of $1 million or more).
Female entrepreneurs have also been largely ignored by venture capital investors. In 2009, only 11 percent of venture-supported firms were led by female CEOs, while women earned less than 10 percent of that year’s total angel investment. Gries notes that 95 percent of venture capitalists and 85 percent of angel investors are men. However, she argues that a major shift will take place in the near future. “Based on demographics, there will be more women than men entering the workforce over the next decade, and most of these women will be well-educated,” she writes. “As more women have successes, more women will cycle back and mentor, make connections for future entrepreneurs, creating networks of commercialization and industry partners, tap women for their boards, and invest in female-owned or female-led companies.”
This gender-oriented shift has already begun to take shape in certain sectors, such as the mobile app technology sector. Forbes contributor Angie Chang recently spotlighted the female figures behind some of the year’s most innovative apps. Founder and CEO Carol Realini created Obopay, a mobile banking app that provides payment solutions for users. Marketing specialist Carrie Chitsey founded 3Seventy, a company that optimizes mobile customer experiences, and patented Blinx, a business card that can be transmitted via text message. Cathy Edwards created Chomp, an algorithm-based app search engine compatible with both the iPhone and Android smart devices. And last December, Khush Founder Prerna Gupta was able to sell her “intelligent music apps” company to Smule in an eight-figure deal. Female founders and CEOs have launched other innovative apps, as well, including A La Mobile, HTC, and Mobsmith.
Like their male counterparts, female tech entrepreneurs come from a diverse array of professional backgrounds — and some, like Lisa Bettany, arrive in the industry by accident. As a young woman, Ms. Bettany aspired to become a professional figure skater. But when a back-breaking fall derailed those plans, she enrolled at British Columbia’s University of Victoria, where she eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and linguistics and a master’s degree in linguistics. In 2006, while still bed-ridden from her injury, she started a blog to showcase some of her original photography. This hobby evolved into a career in 2009, when Ms. Bettany joined a team of camera app developers. Their work yielded Camera+, a photo editing and sharing app that launched in 2010. Just one year after it was made available to the public, Camera+ had been downloaded by more than 3 million users. Meanwhile, Ms. Bettany told Entrepreneur.com in July 2011 that the app had thus far earned her more than $400,000 — and thanks to the inexpensive development and instant worldwide distribution of the mobile app sector, many other female “solopreneurs” have enjoyed similar “rags-to-riches” experiences.
Though gender-related disparities are still commonplace in corporate America, the recent rise of female solopreneurs should effectively dispel the long-standing notion that business leadership is a “man’s pursuit.” Female entrepreneurs across the country are behind some of the most exciting mobile apps on the market — and as these successful women serve as mentors to young up-and-coming solopreneurs, gender equality in the tech industry stands to be boosted even further