Growing up as a female engineer, Cindy Foy-Uhlir often felt she was trying to exist in a man’s world.
But now Foy-Uhlir, with 15 years experience in business consulting, is bringing Fierce Female Founders (F3), a startup accelerator, to the Triangle. F3 aims to help women entrepreneurs break down stereotypes around who sits in the CEO’s chair.
“What I found was that it was tough,” Foy-Uhlir said. “It was tough for a female to navigate the ecosystem here, although it’s a very good one. It’s very different for women.”
In a coffee shop in Garner about 10 weeks ago, Foy-Uhlir and Sue Kemple, a former startup CEO and educator, brought the idea for F3 to life.
Says Kemple, “She drew it on the napkin and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this is brilliant. When can we start?’ And we started pretty much that afternoon.”
F3 differs from many other accelerators in that its model is not cohort-based. Female founders can apply with their business at any level for an individualized experience. For a modest fee that depends on the stage of the company, F3 entrepreneurs will benefit from hands-on guidance, can use F3’s offices in the Vibe coworking space in Cary, and can access F3’s partner suppliers for business services like accounting, marketing and sales.
Foy-Uhlir and Kemple, who already have four companies participating in F3, will be attending this Thursday’s Startup Summit in RTP to meet more entrepreneurs and spread the word about F3. At more explicitly female-orineted tech events, meanwhile, the pair have witnessed a common theme in discussion.
“The same conversation occurs at each one of them,” Foy-Uhlir said. “They say: ‘I didn’t have anybody to turn to to figure out if I was doing things right or wrong. It was real lonely. I didn’t know where to go to get this, that or the other.’”
F3 aims to solve this by connecting its entrepreneurs to investment opportunities. Venture capitalists often leave money on the table because they’re not investing in startups founded by women or people of color, Foy-Uhlir said.
“We want to change that,” Foy-Uhlir said. “That’s it. I am sick and tired of having this conversation. I’ve been having it for 30 years. I’m tired of it and I want it fixed. My goal is to change that conversation.”
For Foy-Uhlir and Kemple, the creation of F3 is essentially a response to a so-far intractable problem: while the Triangle ecosystem is great, it’s still not easy to navigate as a woman.
“There are a myriad of reasons that women aren’t getting the funding,” Kemple said. “The institution of this accelerator is so that we can knock each one of those reasons out one by one.”