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Apple starts Entrepreneur Camp to help female app developers

The initiative will bring women to Apple Park for private sessions with the company's executives and provide ongoing support.

Apple is launching a program to help female app developers.
Balazs Gardi/Apple

Apple wants to help give female developers a boost when it comes to iOS apps.

The company on Monday unveiled its new Entrepreneur Camp that'll help women with an intensive coding lab, specialized support and ongoing mentoring. It'll bring women to its Cupertino, California, headquarters for two weeks each quarter to help them with one-on-one sessions for coding, marketing and other areas to successfully launch their apps. 

"It's a fact that women are underrepresented in the industry," Esther Hare, Apple senior director of worldwide developer marketing and executive sponsor of Women @ Apple, said Monday in an interview. "And there's a huge disparity [in the] entrepreneur world when it comes to access and funding. There's an opportunity to do more and give exposure to women-led businesses."

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To be eligible, the company must be founded, co-founded or led by a woman -- including transgender women -- and must have at least one woman on the development team. The company also has to have a working app or prototype. That could include having an Android app but no iOS version, or having an idea for adding something like augmented reality to an app that's already in Apple's App Store, Hare said.

"This is really the first of its kind, one-on-one, code-level camp for women ... to fast-track app development," she said. 

There's been more scrutiny this year about the number -- and treatment -- of women in technology. The #MeToo movement has brought to light sexual harassment and other issues women have faced, including by high-level executives at technology companies like Google. At the same time, technology companies have been trying to diversify their workforce, which includes boosting the number of female employees.

Apple itself has struggled to increase the number of women in its operations, with its last diversity report showing little improvement in the gender breakdown at the company. A year ago, the last time Apple reported its annual diversity numbers, it said only about a third of employees as of July 2017 were women, the same level as the previous year. 

Sending a signal

For startups, female founders face more difficulty than men when it comes to funding, training and support. Last year, women received $1.9 billion in funding compared to $83.1 billion for men, Apple said. But at the same time, women-owned business are growing over two times faster than the US national average, with women-led tech startups delivering a 35 percent higher return on investment than tech startups led by men, Apple said. It hopes its new Entrepreneur Camp will help address that problem.

"Because Apple is the biggest company and has so much power and voice, Apple stepping up for women sends this huge signal," Kim Azzarelli, co-founder and CEO of Seneca Women, said in an interview. Her group works to advance women in the economy and advised Apple on its new program. 

"That's as important as the skills that women in this program will gain," Azzarelli said. "I think others will follow. When leaders like this step up and others follow, that changes the landscape dramatically."

Apple is now accepting applications for its first session, which will start in January. The initial group will be composed of 10 companies, but it plans to hold a new session each quarter with 20 participating companies. 

Each company will send its female leader, a female developer and one other employee to Apple Park for the two-week intensive session. The participants will meet with engineers and executives for things like one-on-one coding help and will also meet women working at Apple.

"We really want to help female founders and co-founders … have access to Apple engineers and executives they'd never have access to otherwise," Hare said. "And [we want to] go really deep on code."

The participating companies will receive two tickets to Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference the following year and will be connected to other program alumnae for events and support. They'll also have ongoing guidance from Apple developer representatives.

Companies from all countries are eligible for the Entrepreneur Camp, but all sessions in 2019 will be held on Apple's campus. After the first year of the program, Apple may also expand the sessions to other countries, Hare said. 

"It's really important to us that we keep women in tech once we get them," Hare said. "This goes a long way to showing this is important to us, and we're doing something about it."

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