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Filmmaker urges women to start a business

Charu Sharma's documentary "Go Against the Flow" makes the case for more women founders.

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Brittany Hodak knew her idea could help her employer's advertising business. Her boss couldn't care less.

"I don't pay you to have ideas," Hodak remembers him saying. "I pay you to implement the ideas I give you."

"That's when I started to think, maybe I could start a company," says Hodak, now co-founder and CEO of ZinePak, a 5-year-old a marketing company that produces promotional material for the "superfans" of musicians, sports teams and brands. Last year, she and her business partner landed $725,000 in funding on "Shark Tank."

Hodak is just one of nearly a dozen women entrepreneurs profiled in "Go Against the Flow," a documentary produced by Charu Sharma intended to convince more women to found companies and follow their dreams. Together, they talk about the challenges they face as female entrepreneurs and offer advice.

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Charu Sharma wants to inspire women and help them get practical advice on starting a business.

Dani Grant/Courtesy of Charu Sharma

Sharma, 24, knows first-hand the rewards and challenges of creating a company. She founded two startups while still in college before being recruited by LinkedIn as a sales development specialist. She's also founded the Go Against the Flow movement and written three books. Now she hopes the documentary will help other young women realize they can become entrepreneurs, too.

"It's meant to be inspirational, to let viewers see what other women have done," she said. "And it's prescriptional. Here's how to hire, how to build technology."

Michelle Zatlyn provides one of those inspirational stories. In the documentary, Zatlyn -- now head of user experience of the cybersecurity company she co-founded seven years ago -- talks about what moved her to start a business. It was 2009, and the Harvard Business School student was on a weeklong class trip to Silicon Valley. One entrepreneur described what it was like to start a business.

"If he can do it, so can I," she remembers thinking. That year, she helped start Cloudflare.

Women need that kind of confidence just to receive venture funding.

Consider the latest report from Babson College's Diana Project, which has analyzed women-led companies since 1999. The report found that startups with a woman CEO received just 2.7 percent of all seed, angel, early-stage and late-stage funding in the 2011-to-2013 period. Businesses with all-men teams were more than four times more likely to get venture funding than companies with even one woman on the founding team.

That has to change, Catherine Ashcraft, senior research scientist at the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), said in an interview. Doing that means "changing [investors'] unconscious biases and belief systems."

At the same time, more women need to become comfortable with the idea of striking out on their own, said Ruthe Farmer, a senior policy adviser for tech inclusion at the White House. "We as a society socialize women to take a safe route, and entrepreneurship is seen as a risky route."

Risky would be an understatement. Venture capitalists, for example, generally expect 90 percent of the companies they fund will fail. It's why entrepreneurs like Christina Wallace need to bounce back from failure. Now a vice president of Bionic Solution, Wallace talks about a "reckoning" in 2012, when even successful startups couldn't get funding, including her own.

"We ended up shutting down after six months of 100 percent month-over-month growth," she says in the film.

"I got another job; I started another project. No one wrote me off as a failure or someone not worth investing in."

Sharma is now working on an app that will match mentors with women needing career advice.

"Storytelling is step one," she said.