The value of mentorship is unmistakable. I’ve written about it before. I’ve even founded a small company with mentorship at its core. A great mentor on by your side can mean the difference between getting ahead of the game and getting stuck in the weeds. Being mentored has made all the difference for me in my own journey, and I continually mentor as many young women as possible. However, on oft-overlooked aspect of the mentorship “dance” is a quirky catch-22 that perpetuates the difficulties women entrepreneurs face when trying to get their start in STEM fields.
The lack of significant numbers of female mentors, especially in areas such as venture capital, mean that opportunities for women are more competitive, leading to fewer potential future female mentors. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kate Mitselmakher, CEO, Founder & General Partner of Bloccelarate VC, to get her take on what it is like – both as a female looking for support starting out and as a woman entrepreneur trying to uplift the women following in her footsteps.
Kate was born in Russia into a family of aerospace engineers. While one would assume such lofty careers would make life easier for her family, the economy had other plans. Due to currency instability following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kate watched her parents struggle throughout the 1990’s. They were forced to borrow money in order to survive, often at interest rates topping 100%.
Though they were hard working and intelligent people, the circumstances led her parents into bankruptcy 9 times in less than a decade. By 1998, they had finally found solid footing. They started to experience the first real success that they had seen in 8 years. Then, the Russian economy collapsed. Practically overnight, Kate’s family watched all of their hard-earned assets lose over 90% of their value. The experience was formative for Kate, pushing her towards what would eventually become her career.
“When I first heard about Bitcoin, I immediately saw its disruptive potential for countries such as Russia where financial system is not stable, and an alternative currency is a viable hedge. I really could see how blockchain can create more transparency and immutability hence reducing corruption. Not only is it going to create trillions of dollars in value, but also make a social impact in areas such as corruption eradication and closing the poverty gap.”
Kate jumped into the industry as an investor and blockchain advocate in 2014. Seeing the potential impact blockchain could have, combined with her belief that entrepreneurs are true change agents in the world, Kate founded a new blockchain fund and accelerator, Bloccelerate VC. The company is looking to invest in and support 50-100 blockchain companies over the next 5 years, supporting the development of the blockchain ecosystem. However, getting started as a woman in her field came with its challenges. Chief among them – a lack of other female mentors.
“A challenge that I experienced as a female is lack of mentorship opportunities compared to my male counterparts. I find it difficult to find other female mentors who are open to coaching and developing the next generation of female leaders. Part of the reason for this challenge is that, due to lack of women in leadership roles today, the competition for these mentee roles is much steeper for females than for males who have many role models to choose from.”
Kate’s experience is not unique to blockchain, or even simply STEM fields. Women entrepreneurs the world over encounter difficulties trying to find the support and guidance they need to succeed.
“I believe that a lot of the challenges that females face in business today are not gender specific. We all have to have enormous amount of perseverance, agility, and stamina in order to survive in the business world,” Kate continues. “With that said, what women often have to manage, more so than men, is perception. Because there are fewer successful female entrepreneurs running successful venture-backed companies, less venture capital tends to go toward female entrepreneurs looking for funding. As a result, fewer female entrepreneurs end up looking for capital (being discouraged by the lack of role models), and therefore less success stories are created. We need to actively fight to change that perception by highlighting success stories.”
This is one case where the Gandhi adage certainly rings true – be the change you want to see in the world. Kate used her struggles trying to find strong female role models and turned them around to create an environment where more women can succeed. Every day, women are achieving greater and greater business heights. And, more importantly, women like Kate are using their success to help open up opportunities to other women.