Start Her Up!
By Hilary Kraus
Photography by Amy Marcy, Coastline Imagery
Join Jennifer Bonnett for coffee and before you finish your non-fat mocha latte, you’ll have an understanding of what makes her a major player in Internet startup businesses and her commitment to helping women entrepreneurs. She’ll talk about “technology business incubators,” “discovery engines” and anything tech related with authority and excitement.
“Startups are my kids,” said Jennifer, who is single and splits home life between the Lowcountry and downtown Atlanta. At last count, she’s had seven “kids,” with her attention currently focused on her five-year-old startup called Startupchicks.com. The non-profit organization is geared towards helping women who want to grow a business. “I love hearing about women’s businesses. I love hearing about their ideas and their dreams and what their passions are about growing a business,” Jennifer said.
Long before Startup Chicks was hatched, Jennifer co-founded eTour, a discovery engine that gave tours of websites that matched peoples’ interests. She served as the chief technology officer. The company grew to 180 employees and 5 million subscribers before it was acquired by AskJeeves (known today as Ask.com) in 2001. eTour is one of three startups that Jennifer has sold. However, that lucrative opportunity does not always present itself in the competitive and crowded Web and mobile technology field. “There is something worse than failing in startups and that’s not trying,” Jennifer said. “There are wins, there are failures and then there’s just barely limping. I’d rather win or fail than barely limp. It’s very painful.”
Jennifer moved to Hilton Head Island after eTour was acquired and continued to concentrate on startups. One of her Hilton Head ventures was an online site for ordering groceries. She had a staff of summer interns who made deliveries, many to tired tourists who had been driving all day. The site is no longer running, although Jennifer said she’s considering restarting it.
Startups Chicks came out of Jennifer’s commitment to helping women entrepreneurs through education, community, coaching and networking. It also came out of her own personal experiences. “I got sick of being the only woman in the room at tech startup events,” Jennifer said. “So, I decided to do something about it.” Startup Chicks has grown to 1,600 female members in five countries and 25 states. Jennifer said the only person paid is an executive director, and she is not drawing a salary. There are local chapters in Savannah, Atlanta, New York, Seattle and Sarasota, FL. There is a waiting list of about 30 cities that would like to start chapters.
“We did an event in New York City with about 40 women,” Jennifer said. “It was impossible to get them to quiet down for the education. There is so much energy and there are so many great connections being made. You literally have to bang on the table to get people to quiet down.”
Lisa Ballard, another successful entrepreneur and a principal with Bluewaterpr.com, helped Jennifer start the Savannah chapter. She said she was drawn to Jennifer’s selfless desire to give women entrepreneurs a safe and comfortable place to learn and share experiences. “One of the most important resources she provides is contacts,” Lisa said. “She seems to know everybody—engineers, financiers, attorneys, accountants, etc. No matter who you need to meet, she can make the introduction. Even if you don’t know you need to meet them, she does.”
When Jennifer isn’t a keynote speaker at events, sitting on panels or recruiting new Startup Chick members, she’s working in Atlanta. For the past couple years, she has worked at the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech, which helps men and women technology entrepreneurs in Georgia launch and grow companies.
Her mind is never far from thinking about her future vision of Startup Chicks. “My end goal is that I can go to any city in the world and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with a Startup Chick,” Jennifer said. “I’d like to understand what it’s like to do business in her country and understand the special rules and regulations each country has.”
Background: Born in Cleveland, OH. Attended West Morris Mendham High School in New Jersey. Graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, majoring in mathematics and computer science. Parents Gail and Denis Bonnett (Hilton Head Island); sisters Nicole Jozic (Bluffton); and Michele Bonnett (Chicago)
What do you do for fun? “I kayak. I love summertime with my niece, Maddie, and nephew, Jack, who live in Bluffton.”
What do you think of the TV show “Shark Tank” that is geared toward inspiring entrepreneurs? “It’s entertainment. There are educational teaching moments, but a lot of it is just good fun. I’ve had two companies on it in the last six weeks.”
Describe characteristics of a Startup Chick: “Passionate, energetic, amazingly smart. They love what they do…and many struggle with the balance of raising families.”