Women Who Startup, Denver Startup Week 2014, Galvanize Denver Atrium

Ask Lizelle Anything: “Why did you start Women Who Startup?”

Lizelle van Vuuren Ask Lizelle Anything!

I get this questions a lot:
“Why did you start Women Who Startup?”

When I entered the Denver startup community in January 2012, right after I left my 9 year corporate tech career after being laid off, I took my first company EmSpot which I started while working on my MBA (2004-2008), and launched it with 100% focus and dedication as a Marketing Consultant. As I entered January 2012, I stepped into the abyss of working for myself and I knew I needed to find community or groups of people who were in my shoes.

And I did. Many. But there were no women, hardly any.

Some of those great meetups and groups I found, like Denver Founders and New Tech Denver are still platforms I love, respect and attend when I can carve out the time but most of them had a really low number of women in attendance. [Today, they are more diverse than ever and I’m proud of that.]

A colleague I had met during 2012, during my new entrepreneurial journey emailed me literally on New Year’s Eve day 2012 and said; “hey, we should really start a women’s group”, and I said “Yes, let’s start it right now”. So we started what was then StartupDenver Female Entrepreneurs and long story short, we grew from 5 members to 50 to 100 and so it went throughout 2012. Then in 2013, approaching the second Denver Startup Week I coined an event called “Women in Tech” and learned 3 weeks before the event was taking place that there already was an event called “Women in Tech” and I took a couple of hours and from that conflict in event naming, I came up with a new event title Women Who Startup. The context of the event was already pretty suited for this new name — the rest is history. Women Who Startup was born out of the second Denver Startup Week 2013 and I took the StartupDenver Female Entrepreneurs group under my wings and re-branded it to Women Who Startup — today it has grown to 1100 members (July 1, 2015). It has been beautiful journey and it is turning into one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial platforms in Colorado and beyond.

So, that’s how things transpired. The reason why I started this movement is because I wanted to learn from other women. I wanted to hear other women share their stories. I was craving to sit with a group of people and have a women entrepreneur tell us how she did it. Because for my entire career so far I literally hadn’t. And so many other women [and men] can relate — you just didn’t hear from female leaders enough to make a dent in the amount of men that we listened to and I believed that needed to change. So I did.

Today, WWStartup is a platform for female entrepreneurs to come share their stories, be a mentor, find a mentor, connect and collaborate with other women and bring people together who want to invest in and support female entrepreneurs because they are still the least invested in [in terms of venture capital] and there’s still a belief that women entrepreneurs don’t take big enough risks to build million+ dollar companies — and I call bullshit!

At the core of what drives me to continue to build and grow the WWStartup community is the old adage I use daily; “You can’t be what you can’t see!”. And men and women need to see women in leadership, in all industries all over the world, only then will we begin to improve things even more on this planet. And hell, the data is all there (NCWIT), having more women in leadership only quantifies more profit, better team morale, product design and more social impact.

One of the newest additions to Women Who Startup has been Women Who Startup Radio, a podcast I launched after Krista Morgan and Erin Bassity from P2BInvestor coined the idea of a podcast — and so that began in December 2014 and we’re about to wrap Season 1 of the show which I call #WomenDisrupt. The podcast is a great way for me to reach a larger community beyond Colorado and both men and women alike. The podcast is available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Sticther. Most of the feedback comes from men, and they have great things to say. What I hear most from men after they listen to the podcast is, “I never thought of that”, or “I had no idea that was a barrier”, “we need to hear more stories like these, thank you”, etc. The beauty, overall and one of the main missions of Women Who Startup is to continue to share the stories of women so that we can start living in a world where 100% of our world population is contributing, not just 50%. Tune in on your own time, you won’t regret it.

I’m extremely proud of the members of Women Who Startup, they show up to Basecamp (monthly meetups in Denver) every month, they connect, ask hard questions, challenge themselves and also have a ton of fun, then they leave and go back to “climbing their mountains” because they have every right and reason to want to innovate, build incredible companies, solve hard problems, become profitable, create impact and so much more.

My next challenge, much like any startup, is to grow Women Who Startup into a sustainable business and a lifestyle brand. I welcome your feedback and questions and support and certainly sponsors or investors whom may be interested in a follow up.


If you want to learn more about Women Who Startup, please visit our website at: womenwhostartup.co and you can contact me on Twitter at @lizellevv.

If you have a question, please email us at hello@womenwhostartup.co to “Ask Lizelle Anything!”. We will be selective and try our very best to get to them all with this Summer 2015 theme.