Astia connects female entrepreneurs with investors

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--“From its roots in Silicon Valley, Astia has grown globally into an innovative not-for-profit organization that propels women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, fueling innovation and driving economic growth,” says Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--“From its roots in Silicon Valley, Astia has grown globally into an innovative not-for-profit organization that propels women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, fueling innovation and driving economic growth,” says Astia CEO Sharon Vosmek. Optoelectronics Report first learned about Astia after talking with Laura Smoliar, former CEO of Mobius Photonics, at the Frontiers in Optics Conference in San Jose. Smoliar is now an Astia Entrepreneur in Residence, as well as a consultant for Peppertree Engineering (Mountain View, CA), which offers design and marketing services for photonics-based systems.

Smoliar explained that Astia opened up many opportunities for her while at Mobius, and she is eager to “give back” and share that experience with others. “I was drawn into the photonics industry by way of the display industry, and specifically laser-based displays, starting in 1998,” says Smoliar. Her training in surface chemistry and physics was useful in solving a variety of technical problems plaguing MEMS light modulator technology, and this is what eventually brought her to Silicon Light Machines, a start-up that was ultimately acquired by Cypress Semiconductor. “Laser displays were still handicapped by a lack of suitable high-power visible light sources, and so I went to Lightwave Electronics to run a program for high-power green and blue light sources,” she said. “After Lightwave Electronics was acquired by JDSU, I saw opportunities for variations on this technology in other areas, such as electronics manufacturing tools, and in May 2005, Mobius Photonics was incorporated. It was at this time that I learned about Astia, which was then called the Women’s Technology Cluster (WTC). I went through the WTC program that trains entrepreneurs about the fundraising process, and I presented at WTC investor conferences in 2005 and 2007.”

Smoliar said she was paired with some excellent advisors who introduced her to first-rate legal counsel and made some essential connections that opened up opportunities with major customers. “I raised funding in Series A thru C from investors in the U.S. and Japan, including angels and two strategic partners, with the last round closing in January, 2009,” said Smoliar, all with the help of Astia.

Astia is ten years old and was founded in 1999 in Silicon Valley by Catherine (Cate) Muther, formerly a senior marketing officer at Cisco and now founder and president of the Three Guineas Fund (www.3gf.org/story.html). Led by CEO Sharon Vosmek, who has been with the organization since 2004 (see www.astia.org/content/view/770/886/), Astia receives guidance from dedicated members of its Board of Trustees, Advisory Board, and Investor Advisory Council composed of seasoned entrepreneurs, investors, and business professionals who volunteer their time to make Astia a success. In total, Astia draws on over 700 expert advisors to engage with client companies and since 2003 has achieved the following results: Greater than 60% fundraising success for the client companies served; More than $600M raised by presenting companies; and 14 exits to date, including 2 IPOs.

Women in business is good for business

Astia requires that companies participating in its programs have at least one woman in a position of influence. “There is a significant body of research that demonstrates the correlation between women in executive positions and higher profits and better overall performance,” says Vosmek. “On a societal level, we have spent the past 50 years preparing women for participation in the innovation sectors, only to see them under-represented in Venture Capital. Today in the U.S., less than 12% of venture capital goes to women founders or CEOs, even though U.S. women represent 35-40% of applicants to business schools, hold 43% of environmental engineering degrees and 40% of bioengineering degrees, and represent 25% of proprietary software developers.”

Boot camp

Astia focuses on a small number of high-potential companies who go through an intense and rigorous screening process by industry experts and investors. The screened companies participate in an intensive week-long boot camp called “Doing It Right”, which is really the ‘on-ramp’ for the entrepreneur into the Astia ecosystem. Once a company is invited to join Astia, it becomes a life-long member of the Astia community, with continuous access to Astia advisors and resources as it grows its businesses and becomes a market leader. Through the program, each company is assigned five advisors who work with the company for two months, preparing the company for investor presentations, providing valuable expertise in how to grow the business, and providing the vital access to networks that lead to funding and business success. All aspects of the business are reviewed and influenced, including the business strategy, the value proposition, the team, the go-to-market strategy, the financials, and the technology.

“Unlike other organizations that have emerged to serve entrepreneurs,” says Vosmek, “Astia doesn’t just connect companies with investors; rather, it provides excellent training in all aspects of growing a business so that companies are prepared to make the most of their opportunities in front of investors and face the operational challenges that lie ahead post funding.”

Entrepreneurs are invited to complete an online application at www.astia.org.

--Gail Overton

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