Tech Industry

Film 'She Started It' eyes struggle of women tech entrepreneurs

The number of female startup founders is low. This documentary seeks to inspire a new flock.

Thuy Truong is one of the women featured in "She Started It."
She Started It

What does a startup founder look like? If the image that comes to mind is a twentysomething man wearing a hoodie, that's a problem, says "She Started It," a new documentary about women tech founders.

"She Started It" focuses primarily on two young women: Thuy Truong, a Vietnamese serial entrepreneur, and Stacey Ferreira, who dropped out of college to pursue a business idea. Ferreira and her brother had already started and sold a company successfully.

Directors and producers Insiyah Saeed and Nora Poggi followed Truong and Ferreira for two years, capturing moments like Truong practice-pitching at 500 Startups, venture capitalist Dave McClure's fund and accelerator, and Ferreira listening to her mother extol the virtues of going to college, while telling Ferreira's brother that many successful people don't.

Through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, including how Ferreira, Truong and several other women founders deal with obstacles, Poggi and Saeed try to show that being a founder isn't about being an extraordinary person, it just takes a lot of work.

"Someone like Bill Gates -- people think that person is so far reaching, so much smarter, so much more of a genius, and they're in awe of them," Saeed said prior to a screening Friday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. "But they don't actually think they can be that way."

As with the broader issue of women in tech, there's a dearth of women founders.

An oft-cited 2014 study from Babson College showed that only 2.7 percent of venture-backed companies had female CEOs. And those companies received only 3 percent of venture capital funding in the 2011-2013 time period.

Anecdotally, because both Poggi and Saeed are tech journalists and spent time at various conferences, they were able to look around and see that women just were not represented. Yet in February, a report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics showed that companies with more women in executive roles were more profitable. The Harvard Business Review found that more diversity on teams can drive innovation.

In the film, after making about a hundred phone calls to investors and the like, Ferreira starts to wonder if things would be different if her brother were the one making the rounds.

Poggi and Saeed have a big goal for "She Started It" in the coming year. They want 1 million women and girls to see it. And to make that happen, they're taking the doc on tour around the world to schools and workplaces -- wherever they can set up a screening. The film's site even offers a way to set up a screening themselves.

Telling the stories of relatable women goes a long way.

"We wanted to give girls that encouragement and inspiration," Poggi said.