Just two weeks after a report from Engine and the Kauffman Foundation declared Boulder the top city in the U.S. for tech startups, entrepreneurs convened Tuesday to celebrate and encourage the role of women in startups and the greater world of business.

The University of Colorado hosted the first Startup Phenomenon Women conference. The daylong event at Macky Auditorium was the inaugural event organized by Startup Phenomenon, a conference series designed to act as a catalyst for entrepreneurial startup communities.

The conference consisted of presentations, storytelling and question-and-answer sessions with 42 different speakers. Both men and women attended.

"The business world is still a discouraging place for women," said Carrie van Heyst, conference producer and director of the Van Heyst Group, which produces events aimed at creating social change. "In organizing this event, we asked 'why is this' and 'what do we do about it?'"

She said that at a CEO roundtable she recently attended, only two of the 80 participants were women.

Margaret Neale, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, opened the conference with a talk on leadership, courage and negotiation. Other topics included the advantages of gender diversity in the workplace, balancing business and home life, and the hotspots of growth in the startup world.


Jandel Allen-Davis, a vice president at Kaiser Permanente, said she would not be where she is without learning from and networking with those who came before her. Her advice for fledgling entrepreneurs: "Maintain intense focus on learning, stay curious, take risk, and in the absence of answers, create your own."

Lindsay Levkoff, director of education at Gunbarrel-based SparkFun Electronics, said she was attending the conference because of her interest in getting more women involved in the tech industry.

Levkoff said SparkFun is an example of a progressive startup, with half of its executive board comprised of women.

"Having that upper-level representation empowers people at all levels to think that their ideas and input are important and their opportunities are not limited," she said.

Citing the acquisition of seed funding, fear of rejection, and juggling life at home as major challenges for today's female entrepreneurs, organizers said the conference's main goals were to inspire female participation in startups, create community and network opportunities, and to grow awareness of female-led startups in the investment community.

Van Heyst and co-producer Andrea Guendelman said the conference originally was planned to be a small get-together for Boulder-based female entrepreneurs, but the enthusiastic response from speakers, participants and sponsors grew it into something larger.

"We found a niche market with more community interest than we ever expected," Guendelman said.

Guendelman and van Heyst said that putting together the SP Women conference was very much a startup in itself, with all of the risks and uncertainty that come with such a venture.

"Women tend to have more trouble negotiating and asking for things," Guendelman said. "This conference is as much for us to learn as anyone."

According to SP Women, there are more than 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating more than $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 7.8 million people. Women now account for more than half of all graduates from bachelor's and Ph.D. programs in the U.S.

Startup Phenomenon will be holding a flagship event in Boulder in November, with entrepreneurial speakers and participants from around the world. Organizers hope to make SP Women an annual event, along with adding other niche conferences.