Recently we caught up Kiki Mills Johnston, Managing Director of MassChallenge’s flagship program in Boston. Johnston oversees the Boston accelerator and some of its key initiatives, including PULSE@MassChallenge, MADE@Masschallenge, and the Newton Innovation Center. To hear more from Johnston, join us at Salesforce Growth Camp in Boston on October 10. Sign up here for free.


According to recent statistics, there are more women starting businesses right now than men. What’s driving this increase?

I think there are two factors: first, it’s becoming easier and easier to start a business, and a lot of that is due to technology. Second, there are a lot of cultural changes that are spurring women into starting businesses. Women aren’t having children as young as they did in the past, they’re going to school to study business and entrepreneurship, they have stronger networks, and, ultimately, they have more role models than ever before. Each year, more and more women are starting businesses and that gives subsequent generations more women to look up to.


Why do women make great entrepreneurs?

My book group recently read Rwandan Women Rising by Swandee Hunt, which talks about the women who came together after the genocide in Rwanda to find new solutions. Bound by the belief that a rising tide floats all boats, they focused on improving education for their children and investing in better housing. As a result, women now make up 64% of the country’s Parliament.

That might be an extreme example, but some of the same qualities that have made women so successful in Rwanda’s Parliament have also made women around the world so successful in business. Women have the propensity needed to build communities, to collaborate on a common cause, and to see both sides of every issue. MassChallenge tries to foster those same qualities with our EMPOWER@MassChallenge initiative, which celebrates diversity in entrepreneurship.  


What is the biggest obstacle facing women entrepreneurs?

Funding is probably the biggest issue for female-founders and something we hear about everywhere, not just Silicon Valley. The percentage of women funded startups is paltry compared to the men.

There are a lot of theories about why, but when you think about the cycle of capital, someone needs to be successful enough before he or she has the money to invest. Because there has been fewer women successes, there has been an uneven funding base. This makes me hopeful because we can help create more successes and, in turn, balance out the funding landscape.


What can we do close the funding gap?

Now there’s an active conversation and people can’t ignore it any more. This heightened awareness of inequality is influencing change. For example, firms like Flybridge Capital Partners have set up a fund for early stage investments exclusively in women-founded businesses. As more women become successful, more women will offer support and mentorship to others.   

At MassChallenge, the most important thing we can do is set women up for success; we offer incredible mentors who understand business and the challenges women face, we create a community through our EMPOWER initiatives, and we have access to capital and networks that can help women succeed.


What are things that we all can do to support women who are starting businesses?

First, we can make an effort to build a network that understands every facet of a female entrepreneur’s life — from family and friends to running business. Second, we can offer resources in areas where women specifically need help. There may not always be a big difference between what men and women need, but for things like funding, which we know is an issue for women, they’ll need more support. It’s about making sure women have every opportunity to succeed.  

Hear more from Kiki Mills Johnston at our Boston popup Growth Camp event on October 10 at the Exchange Conference Center. Get hands-on advice for growing your business, meet with experts from Salesforce, along with partners Sage, OpFocus and more for a powerful half-day growth extravaganza. You’ll get hands-on advice for running your business, working more efficiently, and building close connections with customers. And best of all, it’s FREE. Learn more and register here.

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