Colacurcio, in her early meetings, says she was judged based on her startup’s defenseability, rather than her future vision. In 2018, Harvard researchers Observed Similar phenomenon: Investors tend to ask men about the potential gains for their startup, and women about their potential losses. As a result, the researchers concluded that startups with male founders collected five times more than those with female founders.
Eventually, Colacurcio met Fern Mandelbaum at Emerson Collective, the influential investment firm founded by Laurene Powell Jobs. Mandelbaum, who has a proven track record of investing in women, gave Syndio its first deal. Then, Colacurcio says things got better: “Once you’re on the grid, everything becomes a lot easier.” Now, the startup has raised $83 million in total.
Since a lot of early fundraising revolves around network breakouts, many advocates have focused on solving the founder problem by creating more venture capital. According to All Raise, 65 percent of venture capital firms do not have a single female investor in their ranks. For this reason, the organization has set one of its goals to increase the number of women venture capitalists who can actually write checks. In 2018, 9 percent of these investors were women. Now, it’s closer to 14 percent.
Some women in venture capital are committed to investing specifically in women founders. The Foundation for Women Foundation, backed by Melinda French Gates, closed a $57 million round in July, becoming the largest female founders fund. Anu Duggal, co-founder of the Female Founders Fund, says it’s designed to support women raising their first run, when founder bias is most likely to emerge. “We all know that if you can’t get it, it’s very difficult to build this billion dollar project,” she says. The portfolio includes startups like Rent the Runway, Maven, and Billie, all of which have gone on to see great reviews. Dougal believes that her female-focused thesis will “actually yield good, if not better, returns.”
Some organizations are bothered by the idea of being part of the “women only” program. “As a woman, I prefer to stay away from investors who invest based on gender portfolio goals. I want people to know I belong,” says Jin Yang, founder of Akita Software. Yang, who raised a $4 million initial round in 2018, believes that Lots of women are great at fundraisers – but stats or the idea that their gender is a drag for others.”If your coach tells you you’re going to lose, what’s the point of playing it?”
Fundraising isn’t always easy, but I don’t attribute any of it to sex,” says Merav Oren, co-founder of Versatile, a startup that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence in construction. She believes that all kinds of biases can influence whether an investor clicks on the founder, but the best startups find a way. Oren says fundraising is about knowing how to answer tough questions, especially the “defensive” kind of questions women investors are more likely to ask. “This is very teachable.”
If so, the VC funding gender gap could be reduced in part by teaching more founders the advantages and the generality of pitching. Recently, a number of routers and accelerators have appeared to do this. The Female Founders Alliance runs an accelerator program to help organizations scale their startups, and Google’s startup accelerator announced a 10-week program this year specifically for enterprises. As of this year, All Raise is offering “office hours” for women to get feedback on their shows, and has launched “training camp“This year to train women to raise the first institutional rounds. (Materials are free for anyone.)