Women’s Startup Lab looks to change venture capitalist culture

Global Business

Serial tech startup founder Liesl Yearsley recalls attending her first game developer event in Silicon Valley.

“I’m into gaming. I’ve been writing patents in virtual worlds and augmented reality, deep AI for like a decade. And you go to one of these events and you walk into a room and there will be 60 men, wall to wall. The only women were girls that had been hired that were on little stilts with rabbit fur all over them,” Liesl Yearsley, AI Life founder and CEO said.

But in moving from Sydney to Silicon Valley, Yearsley’s transition was made far easier by having met Ari Horie, the founder of Women’s Startup Lab.

CGTN’s Mark Niu reports.

Yearsley was part of the lab’s first class, sold an artificial intelligence platform to IBM and has another new startup that’s developing a human approach to AI.

“Whereas everywhere else I go it’s like, “Oh, there’s the token chick.” Even if you are a seriously good entrepreneur, people think you are there because we need to put someone on the stand who is female. And with Women’s Startup Lab, you kind of eliminate all that stuff, and it’s just a bunch of really good entrepreneurs just doing their stuff and growing in strength. And that was incredible for me,” Yearsley said.

On the lab’s graduation day, 10 startups from around the world pitch their vision to investors.

Venture Capitalist and Stanford Lecturer Chris Yeh has been an advisor to the lab ever since he first met Horie at a conference.

He remembers seeing her sitting alone at a stand with a Women’s Startup Lab banner.

“Little did I know that was the first event she had ever been to and all she had was this stand. She had no organization. It was just her. So from there ‘til today, where now the Women’s Startup Lab has helped over a 100 different female-led companies, and we’re in this house in Silicon Valley, and we’re getting ready for this new cohort of a dozen entrepreneurs to come in. All that’s happened because Ari just went out and made it happen,” Chris Yeh, Wasabi Ventures Global General Partner said.

The lab’s year-long accelerator program, which includes a two-week stay at a house in Menlo Park California, costs $2,700 plus a three percent equity stake.

Women’s Startup Lab companies have so far raised more than $50 million and had three major exits. Companies that come through the program are asked to give back through a three percent equity grant.

The lab uses that money for its operations and to further invest in female-led startups that dream of becoming, in Silicon Valley terms, the next “billion dollar unicorn”.

Women’s Startup Lab Founder and CEO Ari Horie discusses her work in Silicon Valley

Though Ari Horie is the driving force behind the Women’s Startup Lab, she does not have a typical Silicon Valley background. She grew up in Japan where she says she was ostracized for being the only child of a single mother. She eventually came to the U.S. where she worked in product marketing at technology companies and founded her own startup. Horie sat down with CGTN’s Mark Niu to discuss how she finally began waking up to the plight of women in the tech world.