A Note From the President on Funding Women-led Startups

I had the pleasure of being on an excellent panel of women for SXSWi this past weekend, where we discussed the issue of funding women entrepreneurs. Christine Osekoski, publisher of Fast Company, was our moderator and I was joined by Jesse Draper, CEO of Valley Girl and Megan Quinn, Investment Partner at KPCB.

The broad topic we covered was:

There have been persistent discussions in the entrepreneurship and technology spaces in the past several years about the need to increase funding for women-led startups.

However, an increase in the actual numbers and dollars isn’t exactly being realized outside of a handful of high-profile cases.

With that in mind, most of us can agree that funding more women entrepreneurs is important and seems to be supported philosophically, but there are clear hurdles that are keeping it from being realized and actualized.

This panel will discuss the current state of investing in women-led startups and why it’s important to do so, and point to some of the existing problems and solutions.

We feel it’s important for everyone – male or female – to join in this conversation.

Several takeaways came from the session:

  1. Networks are important. People with the same values and people of like-minded views are important to have around you.  This is why women’s organizations can be helpful.  At Girls in Tech, I know we’ve gotten feedback from around the world that simply providing  a forum for women to come together, to realize there are others like them and have mutual support has been incredibly beneficial.  Additionally, simply knowing people to help you in your venture when you need it – especially in funding – can be invaluable.  Many VCs and angels take these network connections seriously when thinking about funding.
  2. Pitching is scary, but incredibly important. Unfortunately, women like pitching a lot less than their male counterparts, and are often sidelined in the process when in front of funders.  There are large differences in pitching styles between males and females – storytelling, big thinking, determination – that often leave women at a disadvantage, and I’ve had so much feedback in the past year about what a difficult process this is for many women. This points to a huge opportunity in training, preparation, etc for women entrepreneurs.
  3. There’s mentorship, and then there’s sponsorship. This is loosely connected to networking, however, there tends to be a difference in how men and women handle “mentorship”.  Women are excellent at career advice, guidance, encouragement and nurturing of mentees, but they often lack in truly “sponsoring” them, which is something men are generally seen as good at. “Sponsorship” takes it the next step further and adds a component of active and deliberate “door-opening”, if you will.  It’s not only guiding and coaching, but it’s seeking out opportunities for mentees, connecting them to influential people, and turning around and acting on their behalf.
  4. Women tend to not like to ask for money. This was pointed out by an audience member who’s been working in the startup field for many years.  She’s found that women have a real problem being direct and asking for money.  I don’t need to point out how inhibitive this can be when you’re literally asking for money from VCs and angels. How do we solve this? Is it a confidence issue?

There were a lot of great topics brought up during the process, and hopefully some that we’ll be able to tackle here at Girls in Tech in the coming months.

What else have you noticed – positive or negative – concerning getting funding as a woman entrepreneur?