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Maria Colacurcio. (Syndio Photo)

Syndio, a startup whose technology uses data to help companies identify and resolve pay equity gaps for women and minority employees, has landed Smartsheet co-founder Maria Colacurcio as its new CEO.

The nine-person company is mostly based in New York, but with Colacurcio joining as CEO, Syndio plans to build up a Seattle presence.

Colacurcio spent time at Microsoft before co-founding Smartsheet and serving as vice president of marketing and communications. For the last three years, Colacurcio has been at Starbucks, where she held several titles, most recently director of business integration.

In addition to Colacurcio joining as CEO, Syndio also announced it has raised a $5.2 million seed round. Investors include Sirius Partners, Contour Venture Partners and Frontier Venture Capital. Syndio originally sought to raise around $3 million to $4 million but because of the “cultural significance of the problem” the company was trying to solve it was able to bring in a lot more cash, Colacurcio said. Recent studies of the gender pay gap have found that women on average earn 80 cents compared to every dollar earned by men.

Founded by Zev Eigen — a former professor at Yale, New York University and Northwestern with an expertise in labor and employment law as well as data science and predictive modeling — Syndio uses data and sophisticated math under-the-hood to spot pay equity issues.

“Syndio customers upload salary data to answer two key questions. Is there a gap and is it occurring non randomly? In other words, is it explainable?” Colacurcio explained. “Of course you’re not paying everyone the exact same thing, but the big question is whether there is evidence that the gap between two distributions (men/women, race, etc) is happening non randomly, meaning you can’t rule out that it is because of gender.”

Syndio’s product comes in the form of software as a service that companies can purchase for $50,000 for a 12-month license. On its website, Syndio lists customers such as Slack and Nordstrom, and Colacurcio said a lot of big tech companies are signing up to fix pay equity issues.

Initially, Colacurcio explored the notion of starting a company to tackle the same challenge, before discovering Syndio, whose technology she described as a first of its kind. To get this kind of data on pay equity in the past, she said, companies would need to work with economists, consultants and lawyers at considerable expense just for an initial report, before costly revisions or updates.

Colacurcio said she brings her own personal experience grappling with pay equity challenges during her career. In many cases, the gap starts at the very beginning; when someone joins a company at a lower salary than her peers, which can stick with the employee or executive for a long time.

Even looking up to the founder level, Colacurcio says there are equity issues that need to be tackled.

“There are very few female founders, and when they’re part of a founding team, the company is more successful, but they’re often given way fewer resources in terms of funding,” Colacurcio said. “I think any woman or underrepresented group is going to feel a huge amount of affinity to this issue. “

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