Astia: Knocking Down the Hurdles for Women-Led Startups

Quick: Name the Bay Area startup accelerator where 60 percent of the companies go on to get acquired or win funding within 12 months of graduating, and where the 220 companies that have participated since 2003 have raised, in total, nearly a billion dollars in venture funding.

If you answered Y Combinator, you’re wrong. In fact, the group I’m talking about couldn’t be more different from the Silicon Valley venture incubator, which is pretty much a den of 22-year-old guys who dropped out of Stanford with dreams of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg.

The real answer is Astia, and it’s probably the world’s most successful organization promoting women-led technology startups. I’ve been waiting for months for a chance to write about this non-profit. Not so much because of what it’s doing to combat the startup world’s structural and cultural biases against women—although that’s incredibly important—but because of its phenomenal success rate. Any organization that’s churning out this many high-growth companies is doing something right, and deserves the attention of entrepreneurs and investors everywhere. Just glance over this partial list of Astia’s alumnae:

BioVantage Resources, Golden, CO—Sue Kunz, CEO. Algae-based bioremediation for municipal, industrial, and agricultural wastewater. Winner of 2010 Cleantech Open Sustainability Award.

Blurb Books, San Francisco—Eileen Gittins, founder, president, and CEO. Photo book publishing service. Turned profitable after just three years in business; earned $45 million in revenues in 2009.

DNA Direct, San Francisco—Ryan Phelan, founder and president. Acquired in February 2010 by Medco Health Solutions.

Formotus, Bellevue, WA—Adriana Neagu, co-founder and CEO. Mobile business forms for Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile devices. Winner of numerous achievement and innovator-of-the-year awards.

LearnVest, New York—Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO. Personal financial management tools and education for women. Raised $4.5 million from Accel Partners in April 2010.

Napo Pharmaceuticals, San Francisco—Lisa Conte, CEO and founder. Developing drugs for chronic diarrhea and Type II diabetes. Raised $24 million in a 2006 IPO on the London Stock Exchange.

Ocimum Biosolutions, Hyderabad, India—Anu Acharya, founder and CEO. Genomic diagnostics outsourcing. Ranked by Deloitte as the fourth-fastest-growing technology company in India.

Scout Labs, San Francisco—Jennifer Zeszut, CEO. Social media monitoring technology. Acquired by Lithium Technologies in May 2010.

There’s a lot of firepower in this lineup (and even more if you check out the full list of past Astia clients). There’s also a lot of variety: you don’t see too many cleantech, pharmaceuticals, or publishing companies coming out of Y Combinator.

In two recent meetings with Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek, I’ve learned a lot about how the organization works and how it’s different from most of the other accelerators around the United States. If you asked me to boil down Astia’s secret to one word, I guess it would be “community.” The Astia experience doesn’t end after the program’s two-month period of intense mentorship. Astia admits new companies not just based on their potential to get funded and grow exponentially, but on … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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5 responses to “Astia: Knocking Down the Hurdles for Women-Led Startups”

  1. It’s so refreshing to see a networking environment that’s not exclusively about VC. As a “stingy” woman CEO of a medical device company, I haven’t been able to find advisers willing to consider bootstrapping as a legitimate option. The microloans of Astia are a brilliant compromise for companies like us with grants and rapid growth but little capital. Ad astra ad Astia!