Diversity Fuels Innovation: A New Startup Alliance for Women in Technology

Today, President Obama will visit Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters for a town hall conversation on reducing the deficit (you can watch the town hall live at 1:45pm PT, 4:45pm EDT at www.facebook.com/whitehouse).  The Shared Responsibility and Shared Prosperity town hall hosted by the President will be followed by two panel discussions, one focused on the Startup America initiative to accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship, and one focused on the role of Women in Technology.  These panels will include the announcement of a new entrepreneurial alliance organized by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).  Today, I am also proud to announce that my company, Geomagic, will serve as as an anchor member of this alliance, which will give high-tech startups the research, practices, and community they need to create and maintain a gender-diverse technical workforce, right from the start. 

Research shows that tech companies with a higher representation of women in their management teams have a higher return on investment; that startups run by women use less capital and are more likely to survive the transition to established company. Research also shows that including women in a group is more likely to increase its collective intelligence, helping it solve problems better and faster than homogenous groups.

Yet the reality is that there are comparatively few female leaders in the business world, and even fewer in IT.

  • The percentage of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies was a dismal 3% in 2009.
  • For Fortune 500 companies classified as "professional, scientific, and technical," women held only 10% of corporate officer positions and made up just 11% of board of directors positions in 2008.
  • Women accounted for 9% of “IT Management” positions among 2008-09 Dice Tech Salary Survey respondents.

For anyone interested in the current state of statistics, check out the latest scorecard from NCWIT.

I started Geomagic, a 3D software company, in the late 90s with the audacious goal to revolutionize design and manufacturing for the 21st century. We aimed at combining the art of handcrafts with the science of computing to enable personalized manufacturing with the economic efficiency of mass production. Shoes are made to fit our own feet and chairs are formed to support our own backs -- in essence, a renaissance movement of IT-enabled cottage industry where many small and medium sized companies provide products and services that are local, authentic, personalized and yet globally reachable. The social impacts include supporting local jobs, generating global culture diversity, preserving art, reducing waste, and improving life enjoyment. Looking back, we started a company with social value designed as part of the company’s DNA, not as an extraneous concern.

Starting up a company is never easy; every entrepreneur has a war story to tell. In 2001, our seed money ran out, the internet bubble burst, and 9/11 shocked the entire nation. I remember the days when I didn’t know whether or not we could make the next payroll. I stopped paying myself, put up our family home as collateral for the bank debt and wondered if I would lose everything.  We were then fortunate enough to receive government grants and private support because they believed in our grand vision and saw value in our innovative solutions. We enabled Invisalign to invent custom orthodontic treatment without wire and brackets; we assisted the US government in a historical preservation project to create a replica of the Statue of Liberty; we put 3D scanning software on every NASA space shuttle to detect and repair heat-tile damage in space and guarantee the safe return of the astronauts.  Today, Geomagic’s customers are innovators and leaders in the world of design and manufacturing. Among them are Apple, Ford, Boeing, GE, Caterpillar, 3M, Mattel, and Nike.

Over the past year, I have had the good fortune to work with the White House, the Startup America Partnership, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and now the NCWIT Entrepreneurial Alliance. All of them share the common responsibilities to build strong companies, encourage innovation, celebrate entrepreneurship and improve education. I look forward seeing the NCWIT Entrepreneurial Alliance enable more current and future women tech entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses.

And to all entrepreneurial companies who want to reap the business benefits of a diverse technical team, I encourage you to join us!

Ping Fu is founder and CEO of Geomagic, Inc.

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