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Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft corporate vice president for commercial partner channels and programs, left, with Carrie Francey, Hewlett Packard Enterprise vice president strategic alliances, at the inaugural Women in Cloud Summit in Redmond. (Tony Lystra Photo)

Microsoft and Hewlett Packard Enterprise are launching a new six-month Cloud Accelerator Lab to help women start businesses in the cloud — providing mentorship, training and access to their formidable distribution channels.

That was just one of the new initiatives unveiled at the inaugural Women in Cloud Summit, held Friday on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash.

Also announced: a new venture capital fund called the Sybilla Masters Fund, named after an inventor whose corn milling device was the first invention to receive a patent in the American colonial era — but in the name of her husband, because women weren’t allowed to hold patents at the time.

The fund’s organizers are seeking to raise $100 million, and will only back companies with at least one woman on the founding team, said one of the fund’s founding members, Gillian Muessig, the investor and technology executive who co-founded Seattle-based marketing tech company Moz. Other founding members are Microsoft veteran Alka Badshah, and Anne Kennedy, president of Outlines Venture Group.

Chaitra Vedullapalli, co-organizer of the Women in Cloud Summit. (Tony Lystra Photo)

The goal of the Women in Cloud Summit was to help create “a world where women have equal access and opportunity in the cloud era,” said event co-organizer Chaitra Vedullapalli, co-founder of Meylah, an e-commerce platform. The conference was attended by about 350 people, primarily women, a striking contrast to many technology events.

The gathering came in advance of the “Womxn Act on Seattle” events this weekend, and in the midst of what’s become known as the #metoo movement, in which countless women have drawn unprecedented attention to hostile work environments, saying they were sexually harassed and abused by high-profile celebrities and high-ranking executives.

Carrie Francey, vice president of strategic alliances at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, told the audience that only 20 percent of all businesses are owned by women. A mere 3 percent of VC funding goes to women-owned startups, she said.

In addition, the number of women tech workers is declining, from 25 percent this year to a projected 22 percent in 2025, said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group.

“We have to do better,” Schuster said. “We have to do this differently. We have to break through on this. What is holding people back?”

Speakers at the event, which was co-sponsored by Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Meylah, described the odd and often alienating feeling of being the only woman in crowded meeting rooms. They also recounted meetings with financial advisors who don’t speak to them like adults, and groups of male colleagues who disappear into the men’s room and continue a meeting there, leaving women suddenly out of the loop.

The new Cloud Accelerator Lab program will be available to 20 to 30 women-run businesses each year and will also include discounts on Microsoft and HPE services, lead generation, deal negotiation assistance and help with pitches. Karen Fassio, director of marketing for Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group, said the program is intended to “move beyond the talk” about all of those problems and help women take action that can bring about noticeable change.

“A program like this helps clear that path for you. Your opportunity. Your ambitions and where you want to go,” she told the audience. “Women in tech are ready to be unleashed. We are not going to be sidelined while the biggest opportunities of our lives are just in front of us.”

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