DURHAM – Startup Grind and Smashing Boxes are set to host a celebration of women coupled with discussion of challenges female entrepreneurs encounter on Wednesday night – and few men are signed up to attend.

Startup Grind

Each month, the Triangle chapter of the international startup connecting organization, Startup Grind, hosts an event designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs and resources within the Triangle community. Since their launch in the Triangle just over three years ago, the local chapter led by Director, Mark Bavisotto, has dedicated their May event to the promotion of female entrepreneurs. In year’s past, they’ve hosted talks from Cindy Whitehead of Sprout pharmaceuticals and Pink Ceiling fame, and a fireside chat with former Shaw President, Tashni DuBroy, Mati Energy founder Tatiana Birgisson, and Krista Moore of K-Coaching.

This year, the Startup Grind team broadened the event’s scope to both celebrate the Triangle’s female entrepreneurs and to learn from attendees how the community can support female founders’ growth and ability to thrive.

So far at least 70 people have committed to attend the event hosted at Smashing Boxes headquarters in Durham, however, Bavisotto says 97 percent of those RSVPs are from women.

Startup Grind events typically have 35-55 participants and historically, the female-focused events have garnered strong showings with 90-110 participants.

Bavisotto says that while women outnumbered men at the May events in years past, never have the RSVPs skewed so heavily female—just a little over a week ago, no men were registered to attend.

To prevent any misunderstandings, Bavisotto sent a follow-up invitation, highlighting the low participation from men, reiterating the event’s purpose, and explaining the event was intended to welcome both men and women participants.

Since then, a handful of men have RSVP’d.

Mark Bavisotto

This year’s event will feature an awards ceremony where three women will be honored for their excellence as female founders. The Startup Grind team created three award categories:

1) Top female founder

2) top female newcomer

3) top social impact entrepreneur.

Whoever receives the most nominations in each category will win the award. Awards are sponsored by organizations like Big Top, the talent connecting network owned by WRAL TechWire’s parent company, Capitol Broadcasting. Winners will receive handmade wooden plaques designed by Bavisotto’s wife, Liane Bavisotto, founder of Twinkleberry Signs and Design.

Big Top’s Director, Molly Demarest, says they chose to sponsor an award because they wanted to ensure that “other female founders knew that we are in their corner.” She goes on to note that Big Top does not view these awards as “participation trophy’s” but an opportunity to “spotlight underrepresented founders that often don’t get the recognition they have earned.”

The night will also feature an open discussion on the challenges female entrepreneurs face and how the startup community can better support women as they build their companies.

Bavisotto points to the stats on lack of financial investments made in female-led startups, the low number of female-led startups and female co-founders, and the lack of female hires within startups led by males as the impetus behind the event. He says he hopes the open discussion will “push things forward” by fostering new connections, a new understanding of the challenges female entrepreneurs face, and ways each individual and the community can support women and lower barriers to women realizing more success.

“As males, we sometimes don’t understand what they’re going through and what they have to offer,” Bavisotto says. He adds that he hopes this event provides an opportunity to build upon the inclusion work that’s already been done by supporting and celebrating a “group that I and we at Startup Grind feel bring a lot to the table.”

Demarest says the event is valuable because it offers a platform to “highlight some of the most forward-thinking founders in our region” and can “force the community to pause and asses the surrounding landscape to consider what female leadership looks like and whether we are doing enough.”

The discussion and any lessons learned will be recorded and dispersed through the Startup Grind’s network post-event to aid in future efforts to address diversity and inclusion in the Triangle’s startup community.

Tickets are $20, can be reserved online, and remain on sale until the event.