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CHAPEL HILL,Women spoke, women joked, women networked.
The only thing missing from the opening reception of the Springboard: Southeast 2002 conference on the campus of the University of North Carolina Thursday night was a Helen Reddy soundtrack.

But Amy Millman, president of Springboard Enterprises, the Washington, D.C., nonprofit that hosts venture capital forums and training seminars for female entrepreneurs nationwide, insists that her program isn’t just for women.

“This is the model for how all entrepreneurship and fund-raising training should be,” Millman says. “Women just happen to be our first vertical (market).”

Sixteen female executives of technology companies from Maryland to Florida will make funding pitches to about 100 investors today during the conference at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, the ninth such event Springboard has hosted around the country in the past few years.

All of the presenters at Springboard events are put through a two-month “boot camp” in preparation for their appearance. Coaches work not only with the female executives but also with other managers at their companies to pick apart and rework any shortcomings in their business plans.

Different outlook

Millman says it’s all about reorienting the women toward pitching to investors and not customers, which is usually who they’re trying to impress.

“We get women to know what the investor wants to hear,” she says, noting that surveys show women become entrepreneurs to control their destiny while men do it to make money. “You can’t raise money if you’re not out to make money. It’s just a difference in outlook and language that women need to learn to be successful at raising capital.”

Although Springboard tries to mainstream its forums, Millman says there still remains a prejudice against female entrepreneurs at most technology conferences, with very few women making presentations.

“It’s a combination of them being uncomfortable in a crowd of men and the men being uncomfortable with them,” she says, adding that she hopes those walls will be broken down by exposing more women to the venture process.

Steve Nelson of Charlotte-based Wakefield Group says a competent management team with a good idea will get funding, regardless of gender. Yet Nelson, who also is chairman of the Council of Entrepreneurial Development, which is co-hosting the conference, welcomed Springboard to town Thursday night, saying it offers another opportunity to showcase some of the top tech companies in the region.

Range of skills

North Carolina Biotechnology Center President Leslie Alexandre, a former entrepreneur herself, encouraged investors to put their money into women-led companies, listing in a tongue-in-cheek manner the reasons “women overwhelmingly make better managers” than men.

“Women are information gatherers; they’re networkers,” Alexandre told the crowd of about 80 people, adding that women excel at communications, negotiations and team building. “I’m not saying men are not as intelligent. They just operate differently.”
Building a successful company requires that men and women blend a range of skills into a complementary and cohesive unit, she says.

“It’s not enough to have a good idea and some money,” she says. “Investors always want a good team that can execute.”

Springboard: Southeast 2002: