Women’s Ecosystem: Birthing and Transformation

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On Feb 25, 2016, we held our first Hera Fund Wingpact Founder Funder Conversation. Hera Fund and Wingpact are collaborating to produce monthly conversations for women entrepreneurs, investors, and everyone connected to our ecosystem. Through these gatherings we will build bridges and advance innovation in women’s business culture.

For this conversation, we had a rich mix of participants, including new angel investors, an entrepreneur, an accelerator founder, a marketing consultant, and a strategy consultant. This made for insightful conversation from a variety of perspectives.

The major theme that surfaced from our discussion was that there are challenges inherent in working within an emerging ecosystem. For example, Jackie Gutierrez noted her experience that women angels tend to write smaller checks than the male angels she has built relationships with. Another challenge is that accelerators for women and other underrepresented groups usually don’t provide the companies with as much (if any) startup capital compared to the larger, mainline, male-dominated accelerator programs. These problems are exacerbated by a more limited access to friends and family startup capital, particularly for women from less economically advantaged families, which often correlates with families from underrepresented groups.

We discussed the issue of women writing smaller angel investment checks. One factor may be that many women angels are new and learning the ropes. The percentage of angels who are women has increased dramatically – from 6% to 25% in just a few years. Women who could make bigger investments may not be comfortable doing so while they are in the early learning phase. We know from studies that women generally like to have a higher level of confidence and knowledge when participating in any kind of investing. Once they are well-informed, they make great decisions and statistically have better returns than men.

This is understandably frustrating to entrepreneurs seeking women angels who may be more likely than others to “get” their business. The women angels now joining the ranks bring tons of valuable experience to the table, and they need time to assess their own comfort level, risk tolerance, and investment thesis.

There have been recent innovations to support new women angels in growing their comfort levels. The Rising Tide Fund is a learn-by-doing fund managed by Portfolia and Next Wave Ventures. It allows women to invest a relatively small amount of money ($10,000) into a fund that will give them a portfolio of 6-10 companies. New investors have the opportunity to learn alongside hand-selected nationally-recognized women angels.

This model considerably lessens the risk compared to typical angel investing and supports our developing ecosystem by providing top-notch training, mentoring, and hand-on experience. The popularity and success of the Rising Tide Fund indicates women enjoy investing and learning in groups with other women, and this is a model we may want to expand and develop to create more opportunities for women investors and entrepreneurs. Audrey Kalman expressed the opinion that she, and perhaps many women, would like to get involved in supporting women entrepreneurs at an even smaller level, closer to $1,000. 250 women at $1K each could make a $250,000 investment. Would this be a way to get more women involved and creatively support our women entrepreneurs?

We also discussed new models for accelerators relating to startup capital for companies. Silvia Mah shared that Hera Labs is transitioning to become a non-profit organization. In addition to high-growth funding-ready companies, Silvia wants to be able to support companies that need some time before they will be ready for angel investors as well as women entrepreneurs whose business model is medium-sized or slower growth. While not yet completely resolving the problem of her companies’ needs for startup capital, she is pursuing a model that can serve a greater segment of women entrepreneurs.

Both of these topics show that we are in an ecosystem-building phase and there is a lot of room for creative thinking and innovative models. Perhaps when the women’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is more mature, it won’t look exactly like the current mainline primarily male startup ecosystem we have now. Maybe very large numbers of women will participate, with each investing smaller amounts on average into a wider array of companies. We don’t yet know where all this is going, but we do know that women have the creativity and determination to make it all work. We will continue to build all of the puzzle pieces and bridge them together.

There were some points that came up in this February conversation that we did not have time to discuss very deeply. These topics are:

  • How do we connect the emerging ecosystems of all of the underrepresented groups and effectively address the needs of women entrepreneurs of color?
  • Women entrepreneurs tend to ask for less money than their male counterparts when fundraising.
  • It would be interesting to have a broader conversation with women angels about the how they think about their check sizes.

We will address these topics in upcoming conversations – stay tuned!

I enjoyed this Hera Fund Wingpact Founder Funder Conversation and I look forward to the upcoming ones. I know they will all unearth innovation through women’s wisdom, as this one has. For each conversation, I will write an article like this one, sharing the insights that emerged, so our conversation can be global.

We will hold these conversations every month, on the fourth Thursday, at 4pm PT. They will all lead up to the Hera Fund Venture Summit on September 17, 2016, in San Diego. We will bring the themes developed in this year of conversations to the Summit and continue building bridges for women’s business innovation there. Follow Hera Fund on Facebook to stay updated.

Please also check out Wingpact’s new book, Impact With Wings: Stories to Inspire and Mobilize Women Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs. It is the first book about angel investing targeted to women.

Many thanks to the participants for generously contributing their insights for the benefit of all:
Montse Armitano, Angel Investor
Lilibeth Gangas, Innovation Strategist
Jackie Gutierrez, CEO and Creative Director, Cloud & Clover
Audrey Kalman, Author, Editor, Marketing Consultant, and Doula
Silvia Armitano Mah, Founder and Executive Director, Hera Labs
Katherine Wichmann Zacharias, Vice President, Five Rings Financial

Facilitated by Suzanne Andrews, Founding Partner, Wingpact

This article was also published on Wingpact’s blog, Soar Higher, on March 4, 2016.


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