As part of my Aspen Institute Health Innovation Fellowship, I am required to dream up and start a “venture,” which can be anything that advances the leadership of innovators in healthcare. I had come up with an idea but wasn’t quite satisfied with it. I knew that I hadn’t hit on the right thing yet because I kept putting off working on it. I got to the Friday I had set aside to start documenting my project and, as part of my superior efforts to procrastinate, decided to first answer all of those emails I put off during the week because they are not “urgent.” Then, I promised myself, I would get started on my venture.
As with virtually every week, I had 5-6 stockpiled emails from women, especially young entrepreneurs, asking for help, input, feedback, support. And it was at that moment I had an epiphany. When you get requests for something every week, that right there is what business people call market demand. I called a bunch of friends – peer women who also had a few years in the work saddle – and asked them if they had a similar inbox. Of course they did. And when you and everyone you know gets numerous requests week-in and week-out to help aspiring women in healthcare and no one has figured out a way of effectively serving that need, that is what we in business call “huge market demand.” And so it occurred to me – why not ditch my first “venture” and go with something that addressed this particular screaming market need? I know, I’m quick.
And thus, I am here to announce to you today that CSweetener is born. CSweetener is a new not-for-profit company that I have formed together with my awesome and equally dedicated co-founder, Lisa Serwin (she is serving as Executive Director). Together we are launching this company today with a bold mission: to effectively connect women new to and on their way to the healthcare C-Suite with the experience, support and knowledge of experienced mentors who wish to give back. Both of us Lisa’s had the benefit of great mentors who gave us a boost. We want to make that a reality for all who want it in a way that is easy, personalized and scalable. And, of course, fun.
(FYI: C-Suite refers to those in the position of Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Clinical/Medical/Scientific Officer Chief Marketing Officer, Partner and other similar roles and equivalent titles- basically anyone who is or reports to the CEO)
That women make more than 85% of healthcare decisions is well-documented. Women also control most home spending and make the vast majority of health-related purchases. Despite this, men found and run the vast majority of healthcare businesses, and healthcare products often miss the mark, poorly serving consumers and health care providers. While the number of women in management is increasing slowly, fewer than 18% of startups have women on the founding teams. By the time companies reach their Series B funding round, the number of women in the C-Suite has dropped to 12%.
Women comprise 6% of decision-makers at U.S. venture capital firms, and hold only 16% of Board roles in U.S. corporations. Yet, it is widely documented that more gender-diverse teams have higher profitability and greater client satisfaction than all-male teams. Catalyst has identified a strong correlation between the number of women on boards and in the C-Suite and a company’s return on investment (ROI) and return on equity (ROE).
Female founders, emerging female CEOs and their executive team female leaders face numerous barriers to success and fewer opportunities than their male counterparts to succeed as healthcare leaders. Women have a far more difficult time raising capital for their new businesses—securing less than 5% of the overall venture capital investments in new companies—and they are often overlooked for C-Suite positions when they seek to join newly formed teams.
Amplifying the Odds of Success
Despite the odds, more and more women are forming companies and taking senior leadership positions that enable them to bring successful healthcare products and services to market that more effectively serve customers. Just as leaders in STEM recognize the importance of female engineers, so must executive managers, venture capital investors and others who have a stake in ensuring an ongoing supply of new businesses that bring fresh thinking to persistent healthcare challenges.
One of the challenges that female entrepreneurs and those new to the C-Suite most frequently report is that they lack access to mentorship and growth opportunities that are often available organically to their male counterparts and which directly contribute to leadership success. With less experience in the C-Suite and less access to those who have inhabited it, women tend to have less knowledge, comfort and confidence making bold moves that can propel them ahead of the curve. But there is a growing recognition among both men and women that more women-led ventures will lead to a more robust healthcare system that will benefit all participants. To that end, 71% of Fortune 500 companies have instituted formal mentoring programs to assist their younger managers to rise through the ranks. But few such structured programs exist to help emerging women leaders who are not associated with large corporations. And sometimes people don’t want to be mentored by people inside their companies for a variety of reasons.
Where mentoring programs exist, there has been a strongly positive effect. Research conducted by The UPS Store, for instance, found that small businesses that receive three hours of mentoring or more achieve higher revenues and increased business growth, as well as survive more than five years, which is double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses. Research conducted at Sun Microsystems found that mentoring has a strong positive impact on mentees, producing more highly valued employees and resulting in higher salaries, more promotions and higher retention rates, the latter for both mentors and mentees.
Key to the Solution
CSweetener is a new organization dedicated to matching emerging female healthcare leaders new and near to the C-Suite with women and men who have successfully navigated this terrain and are eager to share their knowledge and experience.
The program will feature a combination of services and technologies that:
• Enable female entrepreneurs who join the program to identify the kinds of support they need
• Support experienced mentors interested in providing guidance to emerging and aspiring women C-Suite members
• Use matching technology to ensure ideal member/mentor pairings are made – we are building on the already-proven Instavizer mentor matching program already used by a wide variety of other organizations including the US Olympic Committee.
• Provide opportunities for one-time engagement between entrepreneur members and mentors to test compatibility
• Allow for longer term mentorship pairings when the match is well made and both parties agree that the relationship will have mutual value
• Offer scheduling and video conferencing services within the app that make meetings easy to schedule and remove geographical barriers of geography from matching
• Provide methods for receiving feedback and a resource library of educational and practical materials to create a richer experience for all involved.
Unlike many mentoring programs for women, CSweetener will enable emerging women leaders to benefit from the experience of both men and women who have traveled their path and are invested in their ultimate success. Only through a diverse and inclusive set of relationships and the buy-in of both genders will we break down the barriers to women’s success and gender equity in the healthcare marketplace. Additionally, because of the integrated technology platform, we can make this program scale nationally as we expand recruitment, and that is exciting.
We are now actively recruiting mentees. If you are interested in participating as a mentee (to get matched with a mentor), please click HERE. There will be a modest fee to join the program after the beta, but during the beta it’s free (so sign up!). We are reaching out to entrepreneurial organizations (business schools, incubators, accelerators, women’s healthcare organizations, professional services firms that serve entrepreneurs, etc.) to get out the word and attract those who will use the service. We are also engaging with a variety of companies to garner their support for CSweetener and to engage them in actively promoting the service to the female entrepreneurs in their communities.
We are also now actively recruiting mentors. If you are interested in participating as a mentor, please click HERE. Mentors will have no fee to participate, we will recruit through similar organizations, as well as at large corporations that value mentoring and giving back to their communities. We will seek arrangements with large companies that actively encourage employees to donate time to volunteer causes and appeal to the female C-Suite members of the Fortune 1000, as well as both male and female healthcare leaders who have experienced success. We are currently evaluating methods by which mentors can be rewarded for their service, other than through the social and personal reinforcement of participation, which is itself highly valued. Both mentors and mentees will be provided guidance and guidelines for engagement to encourage a positive experience and to ensure expectations are met. For instance, mentees will be prohibited from selling to or soliciting capital from their mentors.
CSweetener is building a web presence and technology platform that allows for profiling, matching, virtual meeting and tracking capabilities. It will also host a social community that allows both mentors and mentees to engage with each other on an ongoing basis. The program will also feature a resource library to support the program. Data gathered through the platform and program will be used to further the body of research demonstrating the value and outcome of mentoring programs.
Where We Are Now – How You Can Help
We are announcing the program today at the MedTech Vision Conference to kick off the recruitment effort. If you are interested in participating as a mentee (to get matched with a mentor), please click HERE. If you are interested in participating as a mentor, please click HERE. Remember, we are recruiting both male and female mentors!
We are also looking for capital. CSweetener is actively seeking $200,000 in seed funding to pay for the completion of our technology platform and launch our beta in January 2017. We have already had generous amounts committed by MedTechWomen, Grand Rounds, Dignity Health, and several others, but we are still working to reach our goal. If your organization is interested in being a corporate sponsor/partner, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are an individual who wishes to support our mission with any amount of monetary donation, we would deeply appreciate it. You can donate by clicking HERE.
We are so excited about CSweetener and being part of the solution that helps women in the healthcare field realize their leadership dreams and destinies. We are grateful to the support of the many women and men who have encouraged us so far and look forward to all we can catalyze.
We welcome all women and men in healthcare to join us in this important initiative.