(Editor's note: This week's Harp is actually an entrepreneur-focused column dealing with my two favorite types of entrepreneurs - women entrepreneurs and Irish ones. Both are in the spotlight with developments this week and next.)
Seattle-area women entrepreneurs came into sharp focus Tuesday evening at the Zino Society's first ever investment forum devoted exclusively to women entrepreneurs seeking angel capital. And a band of Irish enterpreneurs takes center stage in the Seattle area next week with an array of visits to local companies and a reception hosted by Seattle's Irish mayor.
The audience for the Zino event at the Columbia Tower Club was evidence that female entrepreneurs as well as female investors are no longer a rare breed in this area.
But Zino CEO and founder Cathi Hatch noted for the audience of mostly woman that national statistics indicate that companies with at least one woman on their founding team are about 18 percent less likely to attract equity investors than their all-male counterparts.
As the number of female entrepreneurs guiding start-up businesses in search of capital grows, the panel of expert judges that Hatch assembled to be on hand made it obvious that entrepreneurial success stories for women is not a totally new phenomenon.
Fran Bigelow opened her first European-style chocolate shop in Seattle 32 years ago and has over time become known by her industry organization as "the best overall chocolatier in the United States.
Renee Behnke brought her retail and food background together with her husband, Karl's, business background, to launch Sur La Table almost 20 years ago and grew it into a national company that they recently sold.
Although since neither Bigelow nor Behnke needed start-up capital, they differed from most of the entrereneur hopefuls in attendance last night. But the successes of both gave evidence that women have all the skills necessary to build hugely successful businesses.
The fact there's no shortage of female entrepreneur hopefuls was pointed up by the fact a dozen companies were selected to give elevator pitches to the attendees and eight had the opportunity for five-minute pitches.
The winning firm was Byndyl, "a digital media and payment platform delivering payments, ads, coupons and surveys to unattended retail," has already raised money
As for the Irish business part of this column, next week will find a delegation of about 100 Irish entrepreneurs visiting Seattle, with the highlight a reception hosted by Seattle's Irish mayor. Ed Murray, with a couple of local Irish bankers, as well as Mick McHugh, proprietor of Seattle's iconic Irish pub among the welcoming audience.
All the Irish entrepreneurs visiting Seattle, as well as Vancouver next week, are winners of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition in Ireland, including the 2014 crop of 24 entrepreneurs.
Frank O'Keeffe, the E-Y Ireland partner who first envisioned the program of annual visits a decade ago, notes that while "joint ventures, new projects and investment have most certainly come out of the retreats," the goal was to boost Irish entrepreneurs to compete better at home with multi-national companies that have located in Ireland.
"Through our interaction with the very best Irish entrepreneurs, we began to notice the increasing threat (the multi-nationals) posed to our indigenous businesses to attract the best talent and maintain their market position," O'Keeffe explained.
"At the time, there was a need for a greater industry-led support system that could assist Irish entrepreneurs in growing their businesses both at home and in the global marketplace," he added.
"We realized that E-Y Entrepreneur of The Year (EOY) could develop beyond the award to become a strategic development programme for Ireland's leading entrepreneurs," O'Keeffe said.
The entrepreneurs on the Seattle trip, which follows one last year to Chicago, Notre Dame and New York, are guiding companies from multi-million dollars in revenue to fast-growth startups.
John Keane, the retired Seattle-area businessman who has been the Honorary Irish Consul since 2009, describes the business connections between Washington state and Ireland as "strong and growing."
"That's not just because companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Paccar, Expedia have operations in Ireland, but also because there are over a dozen Irish companies that have operations in Washington state, such as Kerry Group, CRH, Sentaca, lotusworks and Sentaca," he added.
Most of the reception attendees are being invited by Irish Network Seattle, whose members of work in all the major business fields in the area, mainly high tech, but also in the areas like medical.
"I hope the entrepreneurs will be encouraged by those they meet and what they see and hear to consider Seattle and Washington State they think of locating in America," he said.