Modern societal shifts and emerging trends in the startup ecosystem present new challenges and opportunities for women, particularly for mompreneurs – those juggling the responsibilities of motherhood and entrepreneurship. The success of early-stage enterprises founded and led by women depends greatly on dismantling systemic barriers, including the uneven distribution of venture capital.
In the recent Keynote webcast “The Boss of Me: Entrepreneurship and Motherhood,” Andrea Ippolito – CEO of SimpliFed, director of Women Entrepreneurs Cornell, and lecturer in the university’s engineering management program – shared her experiences as a mother and businesswoman, delivering compelling insights into what it takes for women to thrive as working mothers in today’s competitive, fast-paced labor market.
How has the landscape of entrepreneurship changed for mompreneurs, particularly during and after the COVID-19 pandemic?
“What happened is that by forcing us to be at home, we showed folks that we can be effective and efficient, despite what some CEOs are saying. We actually saw an increase of women starting companies. When you look at 2019 compared to 2021, in 2019, there were a whole lot less women starting companies, 28%. Whereas during the pandemic, 49% of new companies were started by women. It was a much more flexible work environment.
Before the pandemic, it was all about meeting in person or working through stakeholder meetings in person. My journey looked a lot different than someone that was in their 20s, pre-kids, that could hustle 24/7. And don’t get me wrong, I hustle 24/7. My effectiveness and efficiency of working has always been pretty “right on” with having kids. But the time horizon has taken me a little longer.”
What are some of the largest hurdles working mothers encounter when trying to found a startup, and how does societal infrastructure play a part in this?
“The infrastructure is not in place to help support [founders], especially parents, whether that’s paid parental leave, universal child care support. There are so many things that we need to do as a society to better support entrepreneurs getting their organizations off the ground.
Startups founded by women are more profitable, and they exit faster. If you are an investor, it’s in your best performance interest for your fund to invest in women. If we want to have a more profitable economy, and we know that startups are the engine for that, then we need more folks participating. And the biggest pool of people we’re not taking advantage of right now is women. We need to rethink the structures to help support them.”
What are your secrets to striking a healthy work-life balance that comes with being a businesswoman and a mother?
“One of the things we see often is, especially for women that are parents, is they feel like they have to hide different parts of their life. For me, I have a five-year-old. I have a two-year-old and a T-minus five-week-old. And I don’t try to hide it. There are times where, yes, I don’t want them around because I want to focus 100%. But I also don’t try to hide it.
There’s this big misconception that people are taking off in the middle of the workday, and they’re not focused. The reality is that by giving folks a more flexible schedule, you actually get more out of them. They value their work. They’re aligned with your mission. But you’re also respecting them as a human being as well.”
Can you share your insights on the bias in investment toward women-led startups? How does this coincide with major life events like motherhood?
“We know that women [are] seen as less investable. There are tremendous biases out there, no doubt. And the research has shown that. One of the things that I feel very strongly about is that by the time a woman gets enough experience, expertise, and confidence, it’s around the same time that she’s having kids. One of the challenges is how do you start a company when you have this crazy unpredictable life of being a parent.
Venture capitalists have to raise money from somewhere. They have to raise money from what are called limited partners, or LPs. And those limited partners are pension funds, college endowments, sovereign wealth. And so we need folks like limited partners, like college endowments, to actually invest more in women-led funds.”
How can businesses better support working mothers, particularly with regards to incorporating child care into their business models?
“I think more and more, we need to have universal child care as a federally-funded entity. The companies that find ways to support child care or maybe fund it as a benefit will do better. And so I think there’s a responsibility of larger organizations to have this as a benefit. And then for, say, small businesses where they don’t have, frankly, those types of funds or resources, I do think [we need] a government federal response. It’s good for our economy. It pays for itself. It creates an engine in our economy.”
In a rapidly evolving entrepreneurial world, businesswomen are breaking down barriers, mastering the juggling act of work-life integration, and shaping business models to include family needs. Learn how to navigate a tech career as a woman leader in Cornell’s Women in Product certificate program, designed by Andrea Ippolito or gain a better understanding of funding models in Cornell’s Startup Funding and Finance certificate.