By Chelsea Hurley
The .CO Icons & Innovators Series showcases interviews with the big thinkers, crazy dreamers, rule breakers and risk takers who spend their days breaking through boundaries, creating new possibilities, and transforming current realities to build the future online – on .CO, of course!
Kay Koplovitz is Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Springboard Growth Capital and the Co-founder and Chairman of Springboard Enterprises., a non-profit venture catalyst that has foster the investment of more than $7.4 billion in women-led firms. She is a seasoned investor and advisor to companies through all stages of growth. Koplovitz is the founder and former Chairman & CEO of USA Networks, which includes USA Network, the Sci-Fi Channel, and USA Networks International – today multi-billion dollar television cable television networks. She founded and led the company for 21 years before stepping down in 1998, at which time it was sold for $4.5 billion.
I would like women entrepreneurs to raise capital at parity with others in the market and build scalable and sustainable businesses, create wealth and the jobs of the future. There has been much talk about encouraging women to enter the STEM fields but I believe that activating their engagement was what was needed. We’ve met hundreds of accomplished professionals, women who are bringing important disruptive technologies to the market. They are all extremely talented women with significant contributions to make. Through Springboard they have an active expert support ecosystem to leverage as they grow scalable, sustainable, successful high impact businesses.
Science and technology are the catalysts for building a better future. Imagination and innovation are the energizers of the process. I’ve been credited with launching the cable television industry which was a game changing innovation of its time – the creation of a new category of communications employing satellite technology. Technology continues to be the driver for new disruptive solutions to some of the most vexing market challenges facing so many of our legacy industries.
While I was always driven and had a strong vision for the possible, the path I chose was not without challenges. My path to success involved charting new territory for the broadcast industry further complicated by the fact that the industry never before had a woman in charge. Regardless, I persisted and an industry was born.
I was inspired by meeting Arthur C. Clark while I was traveling through Europe while a college student. I heard a lecture being given by a famous science fiction writer who is also a scientist. He delivered a passionate speech about the power of newly launched geosynchronous orbiting satellites. He was Arthur C. Clarke and his vision for global communications potential during the cold war was a vision that would never let me go. It led me to writing my master’s thesis on the potential of satellites to revolutionize communications. I dreamed of TV networks delivered via satellites connecting people around the globe. I ultimately created the opportunity to live that dream with USA Network and the Sci-fi Channel. The same can be said for the inspiration behind launching Springboard. When President Clinton asked me to serve as chairman of the National Women’s Business Council in 1997, I agreed under the condition that we would take bold steps toward getting women business owners and entrepreneurs to parity in raising equity capital. Springboard was undeniably the most impactful initiative that we launched during my tenure at the Council.
I would advise the aspiring entrepreneur to embrace the rallying cry made famous by Nike, “Just do it.” Being an entrepreneur is challenging and not a career path for everyone. Finding success as an entrepreneur means being an agile learner with a high tolerance for ambiguity. Springboard entrepreneurs exhibit these characteristics in spades. Building a scalable and sustainable business has nothing to do with thinking small; it requires a big vision, resilience and an insatiable appetite for making the impossible possible.
In hindsight, the challenges that I faced are no different from what women entrepreneurs face today – access to capital. Capital is the fuel for growth and without it the path to market penetration and building a scalable business is full of obstacles. Our quest is to conquer those challenges.
When I first asked to bring Springboard to Australia nine years ago I thought it was pointless. I said “there’s no venture capital in Australia. You can’t teach a person to raise something that’s not there.” When we did eventually bring the program to Australia, we couldn’t find $25 million in the country that was being invested in early stage companies. The country was enormously wealthy in assets, but different kinds of assets like mining, not the innovation economy. We talked about what could be done and what the government could do to help shine a light on innovation. In the five years since, the venture market in Australia has exploded and there is now almost $1 billion on offer for early-stage tech companies.
Women will always bring a different perspective and collaborative management style to leading a business. There is so much research that supports the impact that diverse teams have on the bottom line of corporations. A recent study conducted by executive search firm Korn Ferry of over 200 Springboard entrepreneurs, revealed that “women entrepreneurs possess the sought after attributes of 21st century leaders.”
.CO is not just a domain – it is a progressive community of affiliated startups and entrepreneurial organizations. DotCO has served not just as a preferred domain destination but as a catalyst for building the startup ecosystem with an emphasis on including previously underserved populations like women-led businesses.
After 17 years of supporting and promoting the most talented and innovative women entrepreneurs, I can honestly say we’ve only just begun to make our mark. We have a big vision and the women in our expert network hold great promise for the future of industry, the population and the global economy.
While Chairing the National Business Council under President Clinton in 1998, I saw all this money in venture capital, $104 billion, pouring into the innovation economy. There was so much of it available, yet there were no women there. Less than two percent of this capital was funding women, and even that was only in a couple of companies. There was really no access point. We launched Springboard, to help get women there and to help this disconnect. It was an opening for women to get into the equity funding marketplace, because that’s how their companies will be competitive.
Springboard really started as a challenge. A challenge from investors in Silicon Valley to find a substantial group of venture-backable women-led companies. We opened applications for the first Springboard forum in 1999 hoping to drum up 100 applications to select at least 10 companies to present in our debut event. We ended up getting 300+ applications and selected 26 quality companies led by women. Out of the 26, 22 were funded, 2 merged and another was acquired. This was my “wow” moment that propelled Springboard into now 17 successful years of work.
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