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How The Ellen DeGeneres Of Silicon Valley Is Bringing Money To Female Tech Founders

Jesse Draper, the host of a popular technology talk show The Valley Girl Show, is helping women get funding–and get noticed.

How The Ellen DeGeneres Of Silicon Valley Is Bringing Money To Female Tech Founders
[Still: Courtesy of Valley Girl Show-Highlight Reel]

When tech founders go on The Valley Girl Show, they never know what might happen. They could be hula-hooping, robot dancing, or blowing bubbles with the show’s pink-bedecked host Jesse Draper, who fashions herself the “Ellen DeGeneres of tech.”

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Draper, 28, started recording the web series six years ago in her parents’ garage, and it’s since been shown in syndication everywhere from taxicabs to Denny’s restaurants. Thanks to a recent deal, Draper’s show will soon have a regular slot on the Fox TV network.

Daughter of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, she’s been immersed in the tech world from an early age. “I grew up trying new technologies my dad would bring home,” Draper says. “I would see these great entrepreneurs on CNN and CNBC being grilled about the financials.”

But when it came to actually talking about the inspiration behind their business, she found the conversations fell short. That’s where her show tries to fill the gap. “I want to bring technology to life in a new way,” she says.

Her guests have included Silicon Valley big names like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Sheryl Sandberg. But unlike most tech shows out there, tally up the number of men and women represented–they should split roughly 50-50. After the first season of her show, Draper realized only three of the 28 tech execs and founders she’d interviewed had been women. She then vowed to give both genders equal representation. “I’ve stayed true to my promise,” she says. “But it’s been really difficult.”

While much has been said about equality of pay for men and women in tech compared to other industry wage gaps, Draper sees other key disparities working against women tech founders. She’s trying to change that.

Women Are Spotlight-Shy

It’s not a shortage of women in tech that’s the problem, says Draper. It’s the aversion many of these female founders have to being put in the spotlight that keeps them at a low profile.

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Draper is constantly scouting for new and interesting tech companies run or founded by women and convincing those women to speak out about the work they are doing. “You have to find them and get them to put themselves out there,” she says. “Women need to put their faces out there more.”

Investors Don’t Take Enough Risks On Early-Stage, Women-Run Companies

Last year, when Draper decided to start an angel investment fund called Valley Girl Ventures that gives early-stage funding to women-run businesses, she was discouraged by older investors who felt that niche was too specific. It didn’t stop her.

So far, she’s invested in 10 startups including wearable tech company Melon; Carbon38, a high-end athletic clothing brand; and consignment furniture e-commerce company Move Loot. “I want to take risks on women,” she says. “I’ve had so many people take risks on me.”

But Draper has been surprised to see that female billionaires who worked their way up the more traditional corporate ladder are often unwilling to fund early-stage companies started by women. “I find it funny that the women with the highest resources are not willing to invest,” she says. “You can’t get these women to put money in because they have built their careers working their way up the corporate ladder. They are very risk averse.”

It’s Still A Confidence Issue

Draper still holds strong to the idea that at the end of the day, women are less confident than men and it’s hurting them in the tech and business world. “I have to force myself into uncomfortable situations,” she says. “Then I see younger men just putting themselves out there . . . For women, it’s a learned confidence.”

To help women connect and give them a platform to put themselves out there, Draper also hosts networking events for women across the country. And she is constantly on the lookout for women just getting started out, she says.

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“I will always give any woman 30 minutes of my time,” she adds. “There are female investors out there who are tired of seeing female-focused tech companies. But I’m like, ‘Bring it on.'”

About the author

Jane Porter writes about creativity, business, technology, health, education and literature. She's a 2013 Emerging Writing Fellow with the Center For Fiction.

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