Circular Board Founder Carolyn Rodz Puts New Spin on the Accelerator

Houston—There is a lot of discussion in the startup world about how to better support women entrepreneurs. Carolyn Rodz decided to tackle one aspect of it: the accelerator.

“We wanted to take best practices from accelerators like Techstars and Y Combinator, and build something that is for women,” says Rodz, who launched the Circular Board last year.

For example, she says, traditional demo days emphasize a one-way communication, whereas women benefit more from pitches that solicit feedback. “Conversations are more effective for women,” she says.

So far, Circular Board has hosted three classes—the fourth kicks off next month—that together had about 170 companies in healthcare, energy, food and beverage, fintech, consumer goods, and other industries. Like other accelerators, the for-profit Circular Board hosts a 12-week program with online seminars on topics such as fundraising, going through a re-branding, and making key hires.

Circular Board’s key difference is that it’s all done online. “The idea is how do we start to build a resource for women entrepreneurs who are outside of these startup hubs,” Rodz says. “If this didn’t exist in Houston, imagine what’s [not] happening all across the US and around the world.”

Another thing that distinguishes Circular Board from traditional accelerators is that it charges its cohort companies a registration fee of $1,200. But Rodz says she plans to start investing in portfolio companies by the end of this year.

The roster of mentors Rodz has recruited to the Circular Board include successful women such as Donna Orender, former president of the WNBA; Jane Wurwand, co-founder of Dermalogica (which was sold to Unilever); and Station Houston co-founder Emily Keeton. (There are a few men in the ranks, too.)

“They can talk about all aspects of entrepreneurship from launch to exit,” Rodz says. “These women have been there, and they recognize the obstacles that entrepreneurs face.”

Prior to founding Circular Board, Rodz ran her own marketing technology firm and was an investment banker at JPMorgan.

Here is an edited version of our recent phone conversation:

Xconomy: There are a lot of efforts and talk around boosting women entrepreneurs. What made you do this?

Carolyn Rodz: There is a lot of conversation happening now; there wasn’t when we first conceived of the idea. As we started digging into online learning and understanding the science of learning, talking to entrepreneurs who … Next Page »

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