RENO, Nev.—As this city grows its fledgling tech and business sectors, some residents want to make sure women hold leadership roles from the beginning. In the United States, women are severely underrepresented in both areas. An analysis last year found that just 15 percent of U.S.-based startups that received funding between 2009 and 2014 have a female founder. Only around 13 percent of Twitter’s tech employees are women, a percentage in line with those at other companies, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. While Silicon Valley struggles to address the disparity, a group of women in Reno wants to prevent it from growing in their city by inspiring girls to start businesses and pursue leadership roles.
On a recent Saturday morning, about 45 girls and young women, ages 7 to 23, filed into a local art venue to attend Girl Empire. They were there to learn how to pitch ideas to investors and take the lead in solving community problems—two crucial skills for entrepreneurs, but not necessarily ones taught in school.
For Lauren Klein, the CEO of Girlmade and the organizer of the event, helping women start businesses is personal. Her teenaged daughter expressed an interest in being an entrepreneur, but Klein had to supplement her daughter’s school work with lessons on how to start and run a business. Klein, who devised growth and marketing strategies for Silicon Valley companies, realized not all parents have the time or ability to do what she did. “This market is ripe for this,” she says. “Eventually, we could be the Girls Who Code of entrepreneurship,” she adds, referring to the nonprofit that focuses on getting more girls into tech.