In a world where many complain about the lack of resources for women in businesses, few put their money where their mouth is. However, female-forward companies, Circular Board and Dell, are doing just that. Their new platform, Alice, which is meant to help the 35 million women-lead businesses in the US, offers female entrepreneurs targeted brand-building tools via smart technology.
Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz.Circular Summit 2017
“Alice is essentially a search tool for founders," says Carolyn Rodz, Founder and CEO of the Circular Board. “Based on their profile Alice will know a user's industry, location and state of growth, so that it can refine [search results] based on real time needs, like securing capital or finding legal representation for a certain niche locale." As more women use Alice, the platform is able to aggregate and disseminate data more specifically.
“Alice gets smarter the more people use it," says Rodz. “She is learning from the community as a whole, learning what works based on geography, industry, getting very granular. Alice is collaborative. It's not just providing information for you, it is helping women everywhere."
Named after Lewis Carroll's wily protagonist, Alice is meant to help women move forward in business building by streamlining their search for resources. “In Alice, we saw an entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills and guts to push beyond the hurdles to get to where she needed to go," said Rodz," adding that the platform represents the work that has been done manually by the Circular Board up until now. “Alice was created as the result of what we learned was the great value we provided; integration into the existing startup ecosystem. Men can turn to buddies from business school, but a lot of women are a real disadvantage in terms of the value of their social network. We heard there was no shortage of resources but they were having a hard time navigating the space. We realized we can reach hundreds and thousands through the Circular Board accelerator, but if we wanted to impact millions, technology was the answer."
According to Rodz, the choice of Dell as a partner was a natural one, as the Circular Board and Dell have been working together for two years. Both companies also are laser-focused on the advancement of women across industries, especially tech.
“There is this obvious “this needs to be in the world" moment and for us and as we started talking to people to figure out why there was such a disparity, we discovered that the ecosystem is large and the solutions are very granular," says Rodz. "We knew the execution would be complicated. We couldn't do it alone, we needed backing of key players and really significant partners."
Elizabeth Gore, the Entrepreneur In Residence at Dell, says she was all too excited and motivated to be that partner.
“Dell has a really interesting opportunity right now because we had a very large acquisition last year of multiple companies [including tech firm, Pivotal] so now we can be the solution provider for these platforms--whether that be through security, digital transformation, their hardware and technology--and we have a very robust policy team who is always looking out for entrepreneurs," says Gore. “[The idea was] what if we took The Circular Board as a company, put it through a digital [reinvention] and created what is now the first ever artificial intelligence from female entrepreneurs."
In addition to its powerful search engine, Alice is built to get smarter and more refined the more it is used. Through machine learning, entrepreneurs input information about their company needs, including location, stage of growth, employee numbers, fundraising status, and industry vertical. “Based on that, through the life cycle of your company Alice will [populate] resources for you, everything from marketing to accounting to accelerator recommendations to potential mentors. As you grow and as you expand, it will continue to push that information to you based on the data it's continuing to gather from you and your industry peers."
Alice Press Conference at Dell EMC World.Karen Quintos, Elizabeth Gore, Carolyn Rodz and Michele Perras
"Every time you ask a question Alice will put it in this data and analytics to start building out and predicting, says Gore. “The platform will go from good to great to awesome as more and more women populate it. The cool thing about women is we love feedback so we've built in this consistent feedback loop."
Gore, who works with Dell's executive leadership team and is constantly looking for ways to help “bolster ecosystems" for entrepreneurs across policy (her personal passion) and technology. “We look at specific demographics and figure out to get entrepreneurs the right technology," says Gore. “Every country has a very different need and focus."
With 1,200 new female-led companies launching per day, Rodz says the immediate goal is to get 4 million Alice users over the next five years. “We are confident we can do that with the partnerships we are building out and the demand from women for a tool they can use to grow," she says.
Alice User Dashboard
Currently Gore says the Dell team is focused mainly on content aggregation, pulling all available reports and data that can help entrepreneurs grow. One of the key points of focus, according to Gore, will be providing resources for female-focused fundraising, which Gore says is greatly lacking. “A big objective will be to go out to as many groups as possible and ask them to be part of the platform," she says. “A lot of the angel networks are really excited about this." Next, Gore plans to impute more information about banking and loans, as most women go that route to grow their businesses rather than through the VC community. “We want to go after the banks and understand why women aren't getting loans like men," says Gore. "It doesn't make sense."
Ultimately, the greater purpose of helping female entrepreneurs--on a larger level--is the biggest motivator for Gore and Rodz. "There is so much more to come," says Rodz. "It's a big undertaking, but so exciting to have the potential to rewrite the story for women entrepreneurs."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.