This CEO used to help startups at Silicon Valley's hottest mentorship program. Now, with a professional network for women, she'll go through it herself
- Last week, Elpha launched as an independent company, spinning out of the famed Y Combinator startup accelerator program.
- Cofounders Cadran Cowansage, Kuan Luo, and Abadesi Osunsade founded Elpha to build an online network of women in tech to provide each other with advice and resources - especially since women often find themselves as the only female member of their team.
- Elpha will become part of this summer's Y Combinator batch.
Cadran Cowansage, former engineering lead at the famed Silicon Valley startup mentorship program Y Combinator, had always wished that there were a professional network of women. Now, she's working to make that dream a reality.
Cowansage, along with cofounders Abadesi Osunsade and Kuan Luo, have started up a new company called Elpha - an online community to provide advice and resources for women in tech.
"I started it because I didn't have a place to talk candidly about being a woman in tech," Cowansage, now Elpha's CEO, told Business Insider. "Having that sort of business insight coming from other women is something I always wanted."
Elpha began its existence as Leap, a project that Cowansage started and spearheaded while working at Y Combinator. In early February, after accruing some 7,500 members, Leap was spun out into its own indepdendent company, and given its new moniker to match the occassion. Appropriately, Cowansage originally connected with cofounders Luo and Osunsade via Leap.
It's already gotten its first round of angel funding to get it off the ground. To bring things full circle, Elpha will join this summer's batch of Y Combinator startups. The Y Combinator program - which counts Dropbox, Airbnb, and Twitch among its alumni - puts founders through intensive coaching, while also investing a small amount.
As an employee of Y Combinator, Cowansage observed the process; now she'll be part of it.
"I just had this realization that to take Elpha to the next level, I needed to have a little bit of pressure and have a founding team," Cowansage said. "I wanted to apply the lessons I was learning by watching startups and do it myself. I feel like there's a major opportunity here."
How Elpha works
Cowansage was inspired to start Leap, and later Elpha, by in-person interactions with other women. She wanted to recreate these kind of connections online to build friendships.
On Elpha, women can search for job opportunities, or seek advice on a particular topic. Users can ask questions about fair compensation and how to get a promotion, learn what tech companies are more women-friendly, or even get book recommendations.
"We're expanding on this kind of network and creating opportunities for experts to share their experiences for the female lens," Cowansage said. "I'm thinking through how you can use real identities [or] conversations in order to build those kind of relationships. Those have been valuable and helpful."
This is especially important as women in tech often find themselves being the only one on their teams, Cowansage says. She herself has found herself in that situation during her career, she says. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, only 26% of jobs in computing are held by women.
Elpha isn't just for engineers, either. Women who work in other professions in the tech space, as well as students, are welcome to join.
"Knowing that there are other women out there in their industry or their field is really really nice to keep you going and staying motivated," Cowansage said.
As Elpha rolls out and expands its horizons, the team also plans to tackle the challenges of building a culture and getting the word out.
"I think thinking through what the culture is that we're shooting for, and how to build it and how to maintain it as the community grows, and how to keep that authenticity and making sure our members feel comfortable as we continue to expand - that's something that's going to be an ongoing challenge," Cowansage said. "We want to get the word out so that women know it's a place for them."
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