Conference Recap: Startup Phenomenon Women

Laura Sweltz, Director of UX Research and Strategic Initiatives

Article Category: #Strategy

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I recently attended Startup Phenomenon Women, a single day, single track conference in Boulder.  The event was organized by Startup Phenomenon, a conference series that works to act as a catalyst for startups from a wide range of industries.  It was the first time that they held this particular event.  The goal was to encourage and celebrate the role of women in startup communities.

The conference featured about 40 different speakers in a variety of formats including hour-long presentations, shorter insights on the same topic from 2-3 different people, and panels.  The talks ranged from informative to inspirational.  The majority of speakers were women but a small number of men presented as well.  About 500 people attended the conference.

My two favorite talks from the day covered negotiation and funding.


Margaret Neale, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, delivered a great talk on the challenges that women face when it comes to negotiating.  Some of the insights that resonated with me include:

  • Women often think of negotiations as being adversarial.  The image of going into battle feels overwhelming and pushes us away from negotiating.  We should redefine negotiations as collaborative problem solving.  There are countless opportunities throughout the day when we can make gains for ourselves and our teams by thinking of our conversations as negotiations. 
  • Women often don’t prepare for negotiations which is critical to success.  In order to be successful, we must have an understanding of our alternatives in case the deal fails (safety net), our reservation price (bottom line), and our aspiration (optimistic assessment of what is possible). 
  • Women often shy away from negotiating because they don’t want to be seen as disagreeable or difficult.  The cost of not negotiating, however, is extremely high.  Women perform better at representational negotiations where they feel like they’re fighting for someone else.  By creating a representational mindset (I am negotiating for my family, I am negotiating on behalf of my gender, etc), we can help overcome the hesitancies around negotiating.  

If you’re interested in more in-depth information from Professor Neale, I recommend reading this article or watching this video.


A panel discussion including Sharon Vosmek (CEO of Astia), Jo Anne Miller (Managing Director at Brown Dog Partners and Golden Seeds Angel Network), and Rob Hayes (Partner at First Round Capital) focused on startup funding.  Key takeaways from the panel discussion include:

  • In the United States, women are starting companies at 2x the rate of men but they are raising just 1/27th of the capital.  In tech industries, that number is 1/15th.  In many cases, this is due to women not fully leveraging their connections and not being as comfortable asking for capital.  Additionally, they may not ask or connect with the right individuals or organizations.
  • As an entrepreneur, you need to know what you bring to the table but more importantly, you need to know what others can help you bring to the table and then go find those people.  Hire people who are smarter than yourself.  Investors want to see a solid team that works well together.  They are most comfortable investing in companies with at least 2 or 3 founders. 
  • Find the accelerator that will provide the best connections for your individual business.  The most valuable aspect of these programs are the connections that you make.  Select a program that provides the best connections long-term for your goals. 
  • Pick an investor that fits with your business.  Don’t choose an investor based on who provides the largest sum of money.  It’s important to have a true partner that understands your business and will provide beneficial guidance instead of someone that may bring more funding but could ultimately steer your business in the wrong direction.


In my opinion, the talks on negotiation and funding were the most informative but the conference featured many other beneficial sessions as well.  Spending the day hearing from so many women with different backgrounds, roles, and responsibilities was really inspiring.  I’ll leave you with a little piece of that inspiration that Tiffany Dufu of Levo League shared. 

If you want something that you’ve never had before, you’re going to have to do something that you’ve never done before in order to get it. 

So get out there and embrace the challenge of doing something new!

Laura Sweltz

Laura is Viget's Director of UX Research and Strategic Initiatives. She works from our Durham, NC office, where she helps clients like Rotary International, AARP, and Time Life understand the needs and behaviors of their users.

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