“How different is this room right now, in terms of the percentages of women versus men?” Jessica Lawrence, the managing director of New York Tech Meetup asked the audience at the second Change the Ratio and NYTM Women’s Demo night on Tuesday. She had a point. The crowd gathered at Facebook’s Midtown offices to watch women-run founders demo their startups was diverse in terms of age, race, and ethnicity, yet predominately female.
Ms. Lawrence kicked off the evening by confessing that, even as the event’s organizer and a former Girl Scouts CEO, she had mixed feelings about the self-selecting event. “In some ways,” she said, “having a whole separate stage just for women sometimes kind of defeats the purpose.”
However, Ms. Lawrence went on to explain that in her year and a half of work at NYTM, she has had an extremely difficult time getting female-founded companies to apply to demo. “I couldn’t believe it was because there were no female founded startups in the city, so I decided to do an experiment and put out a call for Women’s Demo Night,” she explained. “And low and behold, 37 female founded startups applied.”
“They were all hiding, and now I know who they are and where to find them, so I can invite them to demo at NYTM,” Ms. Lawrence said. The end goal “is to get the ratio to the point where we don’t have to have Women’s Demo Night because half the people demoing at NYTM are women.”
Ms. Lawrence described the event’s atmosphere as more “intimate” than a typical NYTM. The rules for demos were also more welcoming—presenters had a loosely-timed five minutes rather than three, and early stage companies were welcome to include Powerpoints and screenshots if their pitches weren’t yet flawless. Attendees grazed on spreads of cheese and cookies, while others looked longingly at Facebook’s ping pong table and mini basketball setup.
The demos were as diverse as their founders, featuring everything from Upswing.me, a platform designed to connect black and ethnic women with hair stylists specializing in curly hair (a huge market) to Continuum Fashion, a combination design lab and fashion label that uses 3D and advanced digital printing technology to change the way consumers approach apparel.
“Fashion is about so much more than just buying,” said Continuum cofounder Mary Huang. Along with a pair of her company’s 3D-printed shoes, Ms. Huang was also wearing a dress designed using a photo a friend took in Barcelona made by a company called Constrvct–an interactive brand featured on Continuum. “We don’t want to be a site where you just order things,” she added, explaining that all of the user-created designs on Constrvct are public in order to encourage “a creative space for fashion design.”
But most impressive presentation of the night came from Jeanne Pinder, the founder and CEO of Clear Health Costs, a startup dedicated to increasing the transparency of the healthcare industry. “The problem we’re trying to solve is that nobody has any idea what stuff costs in healthcare,” said Ms. Pinder, who worked at the New York Times for over 20 years before receiving multiple grants to launch Clear Health Costs.
The site, which is currently in beta, uses crowdsourcing as well as a number of other journalistic techniques to gather information about what patients are paying for health care procedures all over the New York City area. “We’re finding that prices vary by a factor of 10,” she noted.
As an example of the type of data she’s gathering, Ms. Pinder drew upon an effort to use crowdsourcing to determine the variation in the cost of birth control prescriptions throughout the city. On the site, users can share information about how much they paid for certain procedures and prescriptions, and where. “People are really excited about sharing things,” she said somewhat dryly, going on to reveal results which showed that in Park Slope one can buy birth control for just $17, though two blocks away the same prescription costs $50. The price range for a cardio stress test is even more striking, with procedures varying anywhere from $150 to $1,790.
“The idea is to tell patients where they can get their services, and at what price,” Ms. Pinder said before announcing that the team has finished collecting comprehensive data for the New York area and is currently working expanded into another city.