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Women’s Work

Upstart Memphis brings women into the entrepreneurial fold.

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As a woman, how can you ensure your business doesn't have a glass ceiling? Build it yourself, from the ground up.

Of course, knowing how to build a start-up isn't necessarily common knowledge. As Elizabeth Lemmonds, chief brand officer at LaunchYourCity and founder of Upstart Memphis, has discovered, not many women are showing up to learn how to take their good ideas from the drawing board to market.

"We were seeing greater numbers and greater diversity coming through the doors [at Launch- YourCity], but by far the greatest disparity or gap when it came to diversity in entrepreneurs was with women," Lemmonds said. "Research has shown that despite women comprising more than 50 percent of the population and more than 50 percent of those pursuing bachelor and graduate degrees, only 35 percent of those are going into their own ventures, and less than 2 percent ever reach that magical million-dollar annual revenue mark."

Upstart Memphis aims to change that by tackling the barriers — perceived or otherwise — women face in starting their own businesses.

Under the umbrella of LaunchYourCity, which includes the start-up incubator, Launch Memphis, and start-up accelerator, Seed Hatchery, Upstart Memphis wants to focus on how women learn best, bring in more female mentors and investors, tackle practical issues like childcare, figure out how to engage women in a historically male-dominated field, and change the entrepreneurial ethos to encourage women to pursue their own start-ups.

"We don't want to recreate the status quo and slap a new logo on it," Lemmonds said. "The goal is to move the needle, which means bringing more women in here and seeing more women being successful."

A meet-up of female entrepreneurs Upstart Memphis hosted in late November gave Lemmonds an idea of just how many women were eager for this proactive effort. After collecting questionnaires from attendees, Lemmonds found that many female entrepreneurs were excited to have regular meet-ups with other aspiring businesswomen. Many expressed that connecting with a network of other women was invaluable in itself.

"They want to see people who look like them. They want to feel comfortable. They want to feel as though their ideas are valued," Lemmonds said. "The Kauffman Foundation released a report on female entrepreneurs in high-growth, tech-based companies that showed women place a higher value on the role that their network, their mentors, and their role models played in their success."

To develop that network of female entrepreneurs, Upstart Memphis wants go beyond meet-ups and get more women to take advantage of the resources available at LaunchYourCity. In fact, LaunchMemphis recently hosted its first women's edition of the 48-Hour Launch, which takes entrepreneurs from pitching ideas to launching start-ups over the course of one weekend.

"We don't see this as creating a separate but equal platform," Lemmonds said. "We want more women applying and getting into the Seed Hatchery. We want this to be integrated and to work with women to make strong, competitive applications for Seed Hatchery."

Although Lemmonds recognizes the gender gap in entrepreneurship is not unique to Memphis, she hopes Upstart Memphis will provide a national model for developing and sustaining a strong female entrepreneurial community.

"We had two women come in from CO.LAB [the Company Lab start-up incubator] in Chattanooga for our 48-hour Launch," Lemmonds said. "I sincerely believe this can be a chance for Memphis to be a model, if we can find a way to shift that needle."

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