In her first meetings, Colacurcio says she was judged on defending her startup, rather than her future vision. In 2018, Harvard researchers observed a similar phenomenon: investors tend to ask men about their startup’s potential gains, and women about their potential losses. As a result, the researchers concluded, startups with male founders raised five times more than those with female founders.
Eventually, Colacurcio met Fern Mandelbaum at Emerson Collective, the impact investing firm founded by Laurene Powell Jobs. Mandelbaum, who is used to investing in women, gave Syndio his first contract. After that, Colacurcio says things have improved: “Once you’re in the network, everything becomes so much easier. Today, the startup has raised $ 83 million in total.
Because a large part of early fundraising involves breaking into networks, many advocates have focused on solving the founders issue by creating more female VCs. According to All Raise’s tally, 65% of venture capitalists do not have a single female investor in their ranks. For this reason, the organization has made it one of its goals to increase the number of women in VC who can actually write checks. In 2018, 9% of these VCs were women. Now it’s closer to 14 percent.
Some women in VC have made a commitment to invest specifically in the women founders. Female Founders Fund, backed by Melinda French Gates, closed a $ 57 million funding round in July, becoming the largest seed fund specifically aimed at female founders. Anu Duggal, the founding partner of the Female Founders Fund, says it is designed to support women raising their first round, when the founder’s bias is most likely to emerge. “We all know if you can’t get it it’s very difficult to build this billion dollar business,” she says. The portfolio includes startups like Rent the Runway, Maven, and Billie, all of which have seen significant valuations. Duggal believes her female-centric thesis “will actually turn out to have just as good, if not better, feedback.”
Some founders bristle at the idea of being part of a “women-only” program. “As a woman, I would prefer to stay away from investors who invest according to gender portfolio goals. I want people to know that I belong, ”says Jean Yang, founder of Akita Software. Yang, who raised $ 4 million in 2018 fundraising, believes many women are good at fundraising, but others are put off by statistics or the idea that their gender is a handicap. . “If your coach tells you you’re going to lose, then what’s the point in playing? “
“Fundraising isn’t always easy, but I don’t attribute anything to the genre,” says Meirav Oren, co-founder of Versatile, a startup that uses machine learning and AI in construction. She thinks all kinds of biases can affect when an investor clicks with a founder, but the best startups find a way. Fundraising comes down to knowing how to answer tough questions, Oren says, especially the type of “defensive” question women are more likely to get from investors. “It’s very teachable.”
If so, the gender gap in venture capital funding could be narrowed in part by teaching more founders the ins and outs of pitching. Recently, a number of mentoring and accelerator programs have sprung up to do just that. Female Founders Alliance runs an acceleration program to help female founders grow their startups, and Google’s startup accelerator announced a 10-week program specifically for female founders this year. As of this year, All Raise has offered “office hours” for women to get feedback on their locations, and this year launched a virtual “bootcamp” to coach women on the first institutional rounds of the lift. (The material is free to all.)