Female founders of Ann Arbor tech companies take national pledge for diversity

Several female business owners in southeast Michigan have signed a pledge, joining the national Founders for Change project that aims to increase diversity in the tech industry.


As of early May, several businesses in southeast Michigan with female founders or women on their executive teams have signed the pledge. They include Jottful, Spellbound, Foodstand, the University of Michigan's Desai Accelerator, WHIM-Detroit, TechStak, and Engage.


The pledge, which now has more than 700 signatures, reads: "I believe in a more diverse and inclusive tech industry. I am dedicated to having a diverse team and board, and when I have a choice of investment partners in the future, the diversity of their firms will be an important consideration."


Dawn Verbrigghe, founder of Ann Arbor-based web design and hosting firm Jottful, says she saw an article about the Founders for Change pledge in March and was "immediately drawn to the concept" but was a little reluctant at first to take the pledge.


Jottful is a very new company, having just started in 2017. It has a team of three currently, but is poised for rapid growth in 2018 and 2019, Verbrigghe says.


"Taking the pledge now, for a company our size in a very early stage, is a bigger deal than for some of these very big companies like EventBrite. It's a lot easier for them to take such a pledge," she says. "Funding is hard enough, so I didn't want to reduce the potential number of investment partners. But ultimately I decided I would prefer to have investment partners who are in line with the values the company was founded on."


Verbrigghe says there is already an informal network in the greater Ann Arbor area among women who own tech businesses, and she began talking about the pledge with her group of friends and colleagues who then passed it to other friends. They continue to post pictures of themselves with the signed Founders for Change pledge to the Twitter hashtag #midwestfemalefounders.


Verbrigghe calls the women who signed the pledge "brave" because it's a leap of faith to take a pledge that could potentially reduce a business' number of investment partners.


"In 2016, only 11 percent of venture capital firm partners were women," she says, while only two percent were Latinx and none were black. Additionally, all-female teams receive only 2.2 percent of venture funding.


"Think about it," she says. "If these are the people making funding decisions, it's not a surprise that women and minorities get less funding."


While the #midwestfemalefounders hashtag focuses on women in tech, Verbrigghe says she thinks having women in more positions of power is a good start, and hopes that female founders will be "more aware of the challenges" other minority groups face.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photo courtesy of Dawn Verbrigghe.