By Sam Elliott
When Kristen Cooper started a new job with web and mobile product developer Sticksnleaves and began working out of Launch Fishers in the spring of 2014, she decided she’d try to meet as many new people as possible — no matter which part of the building she found herself in.
A handful of chance meetings in the Launch Fishers ladies’ restroom eventually led to the formation of the Startup Ladies, a movement and organization with the mission of identifying, educating, connecting and increasing investments for women entrepreneurs starting up and scaling their own businesses.
“It’s been very organic. This started in the ladies’ room at Launch Fishers. It’s very social,” Cooper said. “I decided that when I was in the ladies’ room — the sink faces the door, so I decided when I was washing my hands I was just going to introduce myself.”
Brief introductions eventually led to longer conversations about work and before long business was being conducted and deals brokered right there in the Launch Fishers ladies’ room.
“One day I was chatting with a woman I saw daily and we were actually negotiating a contract in the ladies’ room,” Cooper said. “After we negotiated the contract, I said, ‘You know, do you think maybe we could be a little more civilized and perhaps get together once a month for lunch and be more strategic about worrying together?’
I said, ‘You know, I’ve been talking to a bunch of other ladies in the ladies’ room — I’m going to invite a couple of them, too, and we can talk about how to do business together.’”
The first of what’s now known at the Startup Ladies’ Monthly Meetups took place in August of 2014 with three women getting lunch, and the group has continued to grow ever since.
“We all enjoyed it so we decided to do it again the next month, so we had another one and invited a few more people and some things started to surface,” Cooper said. “What was interesting to us was the fact that in this co-working space where several of us worked there were very few women business owners. We thought, ‘Why is that?’ There are over 500 members at Launch Fishers and the overwhelming majority of the owners are men.
“The overall goal is to increase the number of women that are taking a risk, starting up a company and scaling it,” she added. “Scaling it means you’re not going to have a one- or two-person shop. Scaling it means you’re thinking big with a vision of 100 or 1,000 people working for your company.”
In addition to regular Monthly Meetups, the group began hosting a series of Startup Study Halls in 2015 to provide structure, consistency and accountability to support new entrepreneurs. Executive mentors speak to the group offering specific strategies and tactics members can utilize with their businesses. Dr. Lisa Hoverman, a specialist with the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship at Purdue, discussed how small businesses can apply to federal programs for funding to help businesses scale.
“The combination of the community and then providing structure, consistency and accountability led us to where we are now,” Cooper said. “And what the Startup Ladies board is committed to doing is we want to identify a growing, diverse group of women that want to start and scale a business. I’m very much interested in building relationships with investors so that we increase the number of investments and the amount of money being invested into women-owned, women-led companies. The reason that’s significant to local economies is because we have proven that when you invest in a company that is led by a woman or owned by a woman, your return is greater than that of a company being owned or led by a man. That’s really significant. So if you are a capitalist, you should be very keen on putting women in the C suite.”
Startup Ladies upcoming events
• Monthly Meetup — PitchFeast
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 23
Where: The Speak Easy, 5255 N. Winthrop Ave., Indianapolis
What: Three women entrepreneurs have been selected to give a three-minute pitch of their companies over dinner. Audience members in attendance will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite startup, with the winner receiving 50 percent of the money collected from ticket sales ($15 each) to apply to their company.
•Startup Study Hall — How to Find and Raise Money from Angel Investors
When: 5:30-7:15 p.m. March 2
Where: Launch Fishers, 7 Launch Way, Fishers
What: VisionTech Partners is a management consulting company that provides business services for early stage technology companies as well as capital resources through its VisionTech Angel network. Managing director Oscar Moralez will discuss how his company works with startups and what’s needed to raise money from Angel investors.
Additional 2016 Startup Study Halls
•What Kind of User Experience Do Your Customers Need?
When: 5:30-7:15 p.m. March 16
Where: Iron Yard, 475 E. Market St., Indianapolis
Executive mentor: Jason Day – VP of UX and Design, Salesforce
• What is the Marketing Strategy for Your Startup?
When: 5:30-7:15 p.m. April 20
Where: The Speak Easy, 5255 N. Winthrop Ave.
Executive mentor: Danielle McDowell – Executive director, The Speak Easy