Women 2.0 CEO On 2010 Competition Winners: They're Not Like Facebook (In A Good Way)

This is a guest post from Shaherose Charania, founder and chief executive of Women 2.0, a social venture that aims to increase the number of female founders of technology startups. Ms. Charania previously served as the director of product management at bothJAJAH (acquired by Telefonica/O2) and Talenthouse, and as a managing partner at Opinno.

Women 2.0 is not an organization just for women— we created the name when some colleagues and I went to the Web 2.0 Expo conference in 2006 and asked, “Where are the women in the web 2.0 movement?” We didn’t see them represented there. Women 2.0 is more about diversity, inclusion, technology and startups that are likely to create jobs and wealth, and otherwise improve our lives and work. We have a clear goal of advancing high-growth businesses and innovation in technology.

Last night, as part of our Women 2.0 Startup Competition Pitch 2010, we heard pitches from an eclectic group of tech startups with female founders. Women were definitely represented. The event— which was organized end to end by my co-founder Angie Chang— took place at Twilio’s headquarters in San Francisco. Finalists demoed everything from mobile payments, language learning and expense tracking apps, to a tween social network and waste to industrial products technology.

Teams that qualify for our competition include at least one female co-founder. She doesn’t have to be the chief executive, but that is what we saw in more than 80% of the teams this year. Competitors must also be in a beta stage with their technology. We excluded startups that had already obtained more than $2 million in funding.

The competition drew 130 qualified applicants this year. Business ideas poured in from around the world. We had applicants from New Zealand, Turkey, Korea, Germany, Canada, Russia, Israel, Brazil, the U.K. and of course the U.S. Given the volume of strong applications we received, we decided to give out three industry awards for web, mobile, and cleantech pitches.

Our judges were investor and tech all-stars: Cindi Choi (SunPower), Cynthia Ringo (DBL Investors), David Weekly (PB Works), Gautam Gupta (General Catalyst Partners), Janice Roberts (Mayfield Fund), Julia Hartz (Eventbrite), Maria Kermath (AT&T Interactive), Naval Ravikant (Angelist) and Rachel Pike (Draper Fisher Jurvetson).

The cleantech category winners (photo, left) won a meeting with angel investor and social innovator, Esther Dyson. Judges picked Biolumber. Cofounder Kristin Kaune explained that her company takes plastic headed for the landfills and makes it into “lumber” that is as light as wood, and as strong as steel. Biolumber could reduce landfill waste significantly, I think.

Our web prize went to a company called Apply In The Sky, co-founded by Emily Chiu and Chiara Piccinotti (photo, below right). They are trying to make the process of applying for business school easier on the applicants, they said. The team earned a meeting with Mike Maples Floodgate co-founder, serial entrepreneur and investor.

I think Apply In The Sky is in a space that needs serious help. No company that I’ve seen is tackling the application process for b-schools, specifically. They’ve designed a nice, lightweight application for a very intense process. I think they’ll succeed with strong outreach to future MBA students.

PrePay Nation took our mobile industry prize. The company provides a payment service for users of basic feature phones. They take advantage of existing transaction technology that works to track minutes or allow you to buy more on these phones. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they’re using a top up approach that helps people transfer money to each other, or deliver micro-payments without the expenses and complexities of a wire transfer or money order.

Women 2.0’s Pitch director Aihui Ong told me she thinks PrePay Nation has a huge market opportunity with American immigrants who are predominantly users of basic feature phones. An investor who judged the mobile track, Gautam Gupta from General Catalyst Partners, told me Prepay Nation seemed promising to him because the company leverages several trends in the mobile ecosystem to provide their unique remittance service.

The company’s cofounder Jessica Bishop (in photo below) says PrePay Nation in 2011 should grow its business in North America, while expanding into the Middle East, Europe and Australia, and developing further integrations with mobile operators.

I was personally excited to see Women 2.0 teams thinking in a geographically broad way about their market opportunities, and including team members from other parts of the world. Many teams had intergenerational founders, with men and women alike. You would not expect that from reading the constant press on the collegiate genesis of Facebook. But there is another technology startup reality. Women 2.0 startups are not like Facebook, but I mean that in a good way.

Women from all over the world, and all ages are starting tech companies, and they don’t exclude men. It’s not just consumer web or healthcare, but every industry— we are thrilled to be among the first to see and review their technologies, and generally support their growth.

In the past three years of Women 2.0 Pitch Nights, we had to go home after celebrating to prepare meeting agendas or product requirements for our “day jobs” at Silicon Valley startups. This year was a different experience for me and my co-founders. Today, we’re happy to announce that The Kauffman Foundation is giving Women 2.0 a $50,000 sponsorship for our next six months of programs and events. The foundation normally funds non-profits, but we operate as a for-profit, for-good entity which makes us especially grateful for their support.

With the funding, we’re getting ready for our 2010 Founder Labs. It’s Women 2.0’s pre-incubator program for aspiring entrepreneurs who aren’t ready to quit their day jobs. Once they’ve created a minimum viable product over five weeks at Founder Labs, we hope they will, however, strike out on their own.

Shaherose Charania portrait via Pokin Yeung

Winning teams at Women 2.0 images via Julie Blaustein