One of the key findings in the academic research around why female founders aren't getting funded is that women do not have access to the same kinds of quality networks as their male counterparts. Thus helping women build their networks is one of the key objectives of Breakthrough Labs programmes. We introduce women to experts, investors and partners who can help them with their businesses (Our new "Who we are" page introduces some of the experts our start-ups will work with). Most other accelerators say they do this, too.
But we take this a step further at Breakthrough Labs. We don't just want women to meet the "right" people; we want them to feel like they are part of a community. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely business (especially as a solo founder, I'm finding), and we want women to have a group of people they can turn to throughout their entrepreneurial journey for advice, support and understanding.
Building a community is hard work, but it's something that is particularly close to my heart. My doctoral research was on communities of practice for teachers, how they formed, whether they could exist online, and the impact they had on teachers' work. This research has a strong influence on the way we have structured our Breakthrough Labs programmes.
Communities are built on relationships, and there needs to be a level of trust between people for meaningful relationships to develop. Our Breakthrough Labs accelerator begins with an all-day, in-person induction so that founders can get to know each other and gain the trust that is essential to building community. We have seen that this works: women in our first cohort have built bonds after only a few sessions, such that they are looking for more opportunities to meet with each other outside of the scheduled workshops. Only one month into the programme, we have scheduled an in-person brunch, weekly virtual coffee chats, and informal online conversations about certain business topics.
We want to bring this sense of community to more women, outside of our local area, and outside of England. Our next step is to build an online community for female founders, but we need your feedback to understand what would be most useful for women entrepreneurs. Respond to this short survey to help us create an online comunity that can support you in your start-up journey!