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Why a Former Federal Prosecutor Built a Startup Accelerator for Female Founders [Podcast]

Despite the tech industry's reputation for being a community of early adopters, one very important thing has remained stuck in the past: gender equality.

Working in the industry for years in a handful of executive roles, Sue Heilbronner saw this first-hand: "For a lot of my career, I've been the only female in the room. That was true when I was a federal prosecutor, and it's been true as an investor and startup executive. But it never really bothered me until recently." 

So, Sue did what exceptional leaders do: She set out to make a change.

Enter MergeLane: a startup accelerator based in Boulder, CO. Startup accelerators set out to provide early-stage companies with the funding and mentorship they need to get up and running (the two best-known examples are Techstars and Y Combinator). But unlike most accelerators, MergeLane focuses exclusively on companies that have a female founder or executive.

Sue joins me this week on The Growth Show to talk about MergeLane, their mission to work with women-led companies, her career change from being a federal prosecutor, and lessons from great leaders.

Here are a few highlights from this episode (click on the time-stamp to jump to that part of the podcast):

  • Background on MergeLane and startup accelerators (1:30)
  • What led her to start an accelerator focused on women, and why she was initially hesitant to champion this mission (3:30)
  • The best way to build a professional network (9:00)
  • How she re-invented herself in the middle of her career (10:00)
  • How a $10,00 check from a friend led her to start MergeLane (12:30)
  • Why you need to earn leadership, and the qualities of great leaders (15:00)
  • Why she won’t tolerate gossip at work (16:00)
  • The importance of transparency in business and advice for companies looking to make the shift (17:00)
  • The 15 commitments of conscious leadership (20:00)
  • What most companies get wrong with growth (24:00)
  • Leadership issues that women have to face more often than men (30:00)

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