When Shaherose Charania came to Silicon Valley from Canada a decade ago, she was shocked to find that the start-up scene was overwhelmingly male. So, she turned her awe into action, and co-founded Women 2.0, a network and media company for female entrepreneurs.
Fast forward to today: What started as a “connector network meeting over cheap Trader Joe’s wine” at her house has evolved into a massive international organization. Now, Charania has seen and helped over 300 early-stage, women-owned start-ups through mentoring, resources, and events.
The latest of these events was this week’s PITCH Conference in Silicon Valley, where nearly 1,000 women gathered for talks by industry giants (Zipcar founder Robin Chase, Flickr co-founder Catarina Fake, and Facebook’s Director of Platform and Mobile Marketing Katie Midic, to name a few), networking events, mentoring lunches, and a pitch competition, where nine women-run start-ups got the chance to pitch their companies to a panel of investors.
And we got the chance to watch these female founders in action, see their pitches, and help the judges decide pick the winners! Check out the start-ups who stole the show—five women-run companies to be seriously inspired by (and to keep an eye on over the next few months):
Overall Winner: Tiny Review
A cross between Instagram, Yelp, and Twitter, the Tiny Review app lets people review their favorite things—three short lines and one photo at a time. It’s “more than just a photo and more interesting than plain text,” say co-founders Melissa Miranda and Dick Brouwer, who snagged not only the top prize, but plenty of new users at the event. (We can’t get enough of it.)
Most Likely to Change the World: DocPons
Founded (solely!) by serial entrepreneur and MD/MBA Susan Nicholas, DocPons is like Groupon for health. Local doctors and healthcare providers offer coupons for their outpatient services via email, and subscribers can purchase what they need. The goal, Nicholas says, is to give “affordable access to primary care” to people who are uninsured, underinsured, or only have catastrophic insurance coverage.
Most Disruptive: Perfect Beauty
Women like beauty products. And they like getting recommendations from their friends. So founder and beauty guru Daisy Jing is creating Perfect Beauty, a way to take that process online and create incentives for beauty-loving women to share their products and secrets. (It’s still in beta, but in the meantime, check out Jing’s insanely popular YouTube channel.)
Most Promising Team: Buyosphere
No matter what you’re shopping for—a dress to wear next weekend, a new chair for your office, the latest Bluetooth—wouldn’t it be easy if you could just poll all your friends for recommendations? Exactly, thought Tara Hunt. So she founded Buyosphere, a Q&A platform for shoppers that connects “people who know something about stuff, where to find great deals, or interesting pieces with people who need to find something that is right for them, but don’t know where to start.” Go ahead, ask your shopping question.
Our Favorite: Hotseat
We, of course, love all things that help you succeed in getting your dream job, so we loved Hotseat, a community of job seekers that lets you practice interviewing techniques (on video!), get feedback, and learn from interviewing pros. The brainchild of co-founders Connie Fan and Cece Yu, the official site is still in the works, but you can score first dibs when the site launches in 2012, or sign up to be a beta tester now.
These teams all took home cash prizes (and interest from investors), but the rest of us walked away with a serious dose of inspiration, and some important lessons, too. The main message to current and aspiring entrepreneurs? “Just get started,” said Chase. “Start your company with the absolute minimum you can.” Midic agrees. “Move fast and break things. Something that’s done is better than something that’s perfect.”
The day also showed just how far the female tech seen has come since Women 2.0’s early days. “We’re not just coming along for the [tech] ride,” explained Midic. “We’re driving it.”