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Conn. Women Launch National Competition To Give Female Entrepreneurs A Fair Shot

The Refinery
Jenn Gabler and Janis Collins, co-founders of The Refinery, stand on either side of entrepreneur Ellen Su.

There are now more women entrepreneurs than ever before, but not many are able to grow their business. The Refinery, a business accelerator in Connecticut that focuses on women-led start-ups, wants to change that with a splashy competition. Next week it will pair venture capitalists around the country with female entrepreneurs for a shared Uber ride.

Janis Collins, co-founder of The Refinery, knows that the majority of investors in the country are male, and only 4 percent of women entrepreneurs get to meet with them.

"We think it’s because you invest in who you know, you invest in people like you, who you’re connected to. Women-led companies don’t always have those connections. We’re trying to change that model," Collins says.

Changing the model means getting the women in the same room with the investors, or maybe even the same car. The Refinery has partnered with Uber for what they call Fueling the Growth. Next Wednesday women around the country will call a special Uber car, which will arrive with an investor in the backseat. Each woman will get 15 minutes to make her pitch.

Jenn Gabler of The Refinery accelerator says the women will also get a chance to move on to the next competitive round. “Maybe some of the investors will want to give them their card, maybe they’ll want to put them forward to the next round, maybe they’ll want to invest on the spot. Who knows? It’s going to be very exciting," Gabler says.

This is good news to Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, a professor in the College of Management at UMass. She studies the challenges women face when they pitch their businesses to a venture capitalist.

"I had a woman with a Ph.D. from MIT say that as hard as it was in the sciences and STEM fields, she didn’t realize she was a woman until she became an entrepreneur and pitched." 

If nothing else, the event founders say this competition will give women around the country a fair shot. Fueling the Growth will take place in Stamford, New Haven, Providence, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Kansas City. Winners from that round will convene for the final pitch at the Stamford Innovation Center on November 16.

The grand prize is $120,000 – enough to help a company get to the next level.