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Christy Johnson, the lead instructor of the new certificate program. (Photo via The Artemis Connection)

Like all entrepreneurs, Christy Johnson wears many hats. She’s currently the CEO and founder of strategy consulting firm Artemis Connection, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Washington, a course facilitator at Stanford and a working parent.

A few months ago, Johnson noticed a pattern in the students taking her business development class.

“What we were noticing was the women were super engaged and they were moving on to do really entrepreneurial things after the course,” she said. “And in light of everything we’re learning right now, it feels like we should have more women in entrepreneurship.”

But Johnson also noticed there was no program designed to help women navigate the challenges of being a female founder or startup leader. So she and others at the UW decided to start one of their own.

Johnson said the university’s new Certificate in Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, which will start its first run in January, is designed as a jumping-off point for women who want to make entrepreneurship part of their career path. The certificate program is managed by the UW Continuum College’s Professional & Continuing Education department.

There are now a number of groups founded and based in Seattle aimed at supporting female founders. There’s the Female Founders Alliance, a network of women in the startup world; the unapologetic F Bomb Breakfast Club meetup and support group; and The Riveter, a female-focused coworking space and business community.

But those organizations tend to be a draw for women who are already in the process of founding or running their own company. The new certificate is aimed more towards women who are just starting to dip their toes in the water.

A pre-dawn meeting of the F Bomb Breakfast Club, a meetup and support group for female founders that ballooned from a handful of members to hundreds in just a few months. (GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane)

“It’s really anybody who’s curious about the entrepreneurial ecosystem and wants to figure out where they can play in it,” Johnson said, whether that means founding a company, becoming an investor or just taking on a more entrepreneurial role in their current workplace. Johnson is the program’s lead instructor.

The program includes online coursework as well as in-person classes on Saturdays, to help accommodate students who also work full-time. The program organizers are working with a slate of venture capitalists, angel investors and startup founders from around Seattle to design the coursework and to act as advisors to students.

In addition to giving students hands-on entrepreneurship work and an entrance into the startup ecosystem, the program will also address the specific challenges that women entrepreneurs face.

“This is a controversial topic, on how much you should talk about it or not. If you should address it or not. I think you should. There’s actually good research that supports this,” Johnson said.

The numbers on female entrepreneurship are discouraging, to say the least. In 2017, companies with all-female founding teams received just two percent of all venture capital funding, according to data from Pitchbook. The same data shows that 79 percent went to companies with all-male teams and 12 percent went to teams with mixed gender. (The remaining seven percent went to companies whose gender makeup Pitchbook could not identify.)

That statistic isn’t a fluke: Since Pitchbook started recording this data in 2006, all-female teams have never received more than 3.3 percent of all venture capital funding in a single year. Johnson said numbers like this are important for budding female entrepreneurs to grapple with.

“It’s good to know that, so you don’t get discouraged and think it’s you,” she said.

The program will also discuss issues women might face in the workplace, like bias or sexual harassment. That conversation is particularly timely in the wake of the #metoo movement, which saw several prominent male venture capitalists and startup leaders ousted after allegations of misconduct towards women in the startup world.

“We are going to talk about: what do you do if you face bias and discrimination?” Johnson said. “We’re going to talk about: How do you stay confident, especially when you’re trying something new and you’re… dealing with rejection?

Johnson wasn’t always an entrepreneur. She’s held roles in operations, healthcare and even spent a few years as a high school teacher, which she said was the hardest job she’s ever had.

But she said entrepreneurship, with all its ups and downs, has become a huge draw for her.

“It’s the most rewarding experience in the world,” Johnson said. “It’s not as scary as people think.”

The UW’s Certificate in Women’s Entrepreneurship program will start its first course on Jan. 12. The program costs $3,600 per student and takes place over five months.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify which UW department is offering the certificate program. It is the department of Professional and Continuing Education in the Continuum College, not the Foster School of Business. 

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