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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Women’s Ecosystem: Fish or Mammals?

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It is important for women to gather and take a high-level look at the world we are building together. Last Thursday, we convened the first Wingpact Luncheon[i] for this purpose. Our discussion topic was, “The Women’s Ecosystem: Where We Are and Where We Are Going.”

In recent years, women have increasingly been stepping into all the roles surrounding entrepreneurs, including investors, mentors, accelerator founders, fund managers, corporate attorneys, service providers, and technologists. We have an opportunity to build our own women-friendly business practices and culture, from the ground up. For example, we already have new models of education customized for women investors, and new financial vehicles creating “collaborative investing” opportunities.

For the Wingpact Luncheon we gathered fourteen smart, high-impact women, each working hard on her own piece of the ecosystem. Our group included Wingpact Founding Partners, startup founders, experienced investors, Wingpact community members, new angel investors, and people involved in the ecosystem for many years. We took some time to move to a higher view, see how our pieces fit together, and where there are gaps, overlaps, or tensions.

Early on in our lively discussion an interesting metaphor emerged: a comparison between fish and mammals[ii]. When fish propagate, they spray out millions of eggs into the ocean, knowing only a few will survive. Mammals, on the other hand, have few offspring, and carefully nurture each to adulthood.

One way this metaphor plays out is how we nurture our companies. We talked about the importance of angel investors holding capital back for follow-on rounds for our investees. There is a concept in the wider startup community of “spray and pray” – investing in a lot of companies, with no particular attachment to any of them, knowing a few will succeed. A more effective approach for investors may be to choose our companies carefully, and plan to be there for the long term to nurture them. We even made a biological comparison – with “spray and pray” being a male biological model, and nurturing a few being a more feminine tendency. Of course, these are gross generalizations. Still, it does give us a framework to discuss how we want to do business. There is an opportunity to bring more of the feminine attention to long-term nurturing into the ecosystem, with perhaps a benefit to all.

Another discussion point was our sense that there is still a need to encourage women to become entrepreneurs. Anecdotally, we see younger women more hesitant to start companies than men, even with equal or greater qualifications. We also have data showing that women are currently starting companies at a faster rate than men, and at a later point in our careers. This raises questions about how our ideal ecosystem would look. Do we want women to jump into the startup game faster and more often, and in a pattern more like men? Or is it advantageous for us to gain more corporate experience first, as our instinct often leads us to? Also, if we are more like mammals and want to nurture fewer companies for the longer term, how would we support a greater number of young women entrepreneurs? How wide do we want to make the funnel for companies, and how quickly do we want to narrow it? What is the best way to create an environment where every woman has opportunity to pursue her dreams?

We discussed the currently exciting but sometimes overwhelming number of organizations and projects springing up to support women entrepreneurs and investors. Perhaps we are in a fish-like spawning stage right now in regards to resources for women. What can we do to leverage each other’s work, to make sure we are not duplicating efforts, and that we are collaborating, with each of our puzzle pieces fitting together to create a smooth and coherent scene? How can we all best use our limited time and resources to support the core values that these proliferating groups represent?

Predictably, our discussion identified more questions than answers. We will hold these important questions in mind as we move forward with our work, and we can use them as a framework when building collaborations.

I have been invited by Hera Fund to lead a follow-on discussion this Thursday November 18 at 4:00PST. It will be a Google hangout, so anyone can join – we would love to have your participation.

Another way to participate is to leave comments on this post. Also, let me know through the comments if you would like me to facilitate a discussion with your group. These discussions need to be plentiful, ongoing, and global.

Please share this post to any audience who may have insights to add to our early conversations about creating business culture by and for women.

We are honored to have so many amazing women (and men) as part of the Wingpact community. We know you are committed to creating a better world, one that furthers the Wingpact vision of all people having full access to the opportunity to pursue their dreams.


[i] We are very grateful to First Republic Bank, our sponsor for this event.
[ii] Thanks to Una Ryan, Founder of ULUX LLC, for the fish and mammals metaphor.

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It’s Time for a New African Narrative

At the She Leads Africa SheHive, in Lagos, Nigeria Sept 25, 2015

I’ve been back from Nigeria for a week now and have had some time to reflect. As you may know, I recently joined the Tour of Tech 2015, led by Ingressive in partnership with TasteMakers Africa. The purpose of the trip was to bring investors and global influencers to Lagos, Nigeria, to meet the people who are building African economies and solving persistent community problems.

A regular message under all of the activities that made up Tour of Tech 2015 was about “the narrative.” Westerners have a skewed story of what Africa is like due to our popular culture, media, and our minimal experience. For myself, when I think of Africa, I know many of the images lodged in my mind are of safari animals, people in rural villages living in grass huts, and crowded slums of tin-roofed buildings. The message of Tour of Tech is that this is a very limited view, and it is not helping Africans or the rest of the world to benefit from the plentiful riches Africa has to offer.

There is a growing movement in Africa to put the forces of entrepreneurship to work as a more effective alternative to foreign aid. It’s the people building this ecosystem that I went to Africa to meet.

During the short time I was there, there were two major events that brought the best entrepreneurs from all over Africa to share their pitches, network, and meet investors: DEMO Africa and She Leads Africa. These events attracted investors from all over the globe, as well as ecosystem leaders running accelerators and providing a myriad of resources for startups.

As a result, a fascinating mix of people came together during my week-long immersion experience. I met many diaspora millennial Nigerians, largely educated overseas, who are returning to start businesses in their homeland. These young entrepreneurs are very savvy – many of them hold MBAs from prominent business schools, and have built careers in major consulting and financial firms. They are also unerringly optimistic. They see a Nigeria that has opportunities everywhere you look. Where others see high unemployment, they see a workforce ready to staff their new businesses. They are excited by the huge untapped markets for mobile and educational technologies in Africa. They envision successful businesses that streamline and improve infrastructure. They see that the businesses they dream of building will have a positive social impact on their homeland, while simultaneously generating income for many.

There were similarities between all of the people I met in that everyone had contagious optimism about opportunities in Africa. But each person brought her own experience to the ecosystem. Some Nigerian entrepreneurs had lived their whole lives in the US or Europe, until their recent return. Some had never left Nigeria, and many had left only for education. Some had parents and family in Nigeria, some had families who couldn’t understand why they wanted to return. Some spoke English with an American accent very familiar to me, some I had to concentrate hard to understand, and many were somewhere in between. Some are living abroad, and starting Africa-facing companies. And among Nigerians, there are variations around family heritage, religion, tribe identity, and geographical home, which I only learned a tiny bit about in my short time there.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rich tapestry of perspectives which all the people I met brought to my experience of the week. In addition to learning about business and social impact opportunities, I had a chance to explore the art and culture scene in Lagos. We attended events at art galleries, mingled with artists, performers, and designers, dined at fabulous restaurants, and were exposed to the famous Nigerian nightlife.

I am so grateful for and enriched by this opportunity to begin to learn and share a more accurate, more progressive, and more beneficial narrative about Africa and Nigeria. Now, I know first-hand that it is a continent with abundant resources, cutting-edge technology, insightful people, and stimulating culture – a place poised to be the most modern continent on the planet within my lifetime, while retaining the vibrant cultures and outlooks that make it authentically Africa.

photo credit:  Jenny Parham

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Two Great New Resources for Women: Rising Tide US Fund and Female Funders

A big thank-you to Female Funders for quoting Tina and me in their latest newsletter! I have re-posted it here.  Also, thanks to FF for spreading the word about the Rising Tide US Fund – it is truly a unique opportunity.  Please read this if are a woman who might explore the idea of getting involved in angel investing.



Community News:

The Rising Tide Fund is now open! Accepting $10,000 from 99 female investors. 

The Rising Tide Fund is a new initiative that uses a collaborative investing model. The $1 million dollar fund is being raised this month from nine seasoned women angels who will act as lead investors of the fund and 90 accredited women who will have the opportunity to be mentored by the nine leads.

Looking for a way to dip your toe in the water and learn how investments are made? This is the opportunity for you! Be one of the 99 women to take part in the Rising Tide fund by investing $10,000. You’ll be part of 6-10 investments made by the fund over the course of the next 12 – 18 months.

This fund is expected to close quickly. If you’d like to take part, be sure to inquire quickly.

Questions? Contact trish@portfolia.com, use Female Funders in your subject line. 


What investors are saying about
The Rising Tide Fund…

“For a woman’s first angel investment, it doesn’t get any better than the Rising Tide US Fund.  Excellent investment thesis, top-shelf mentors, fabulous networking – definitely bring a friend to this one!” 

Suzanne Andrews, Investor in the Rising Tide Fund
Founding Partner, Wingpact

“As Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step!  Rising Tide US Fund seems like the perfect first investment step for me to learn, invest, network, and be part of the fabulous community of women angel investors! I am so excited to be part of the efforts to support & improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem for women.  Thank you Suzanne Andrews from Wingpact for introducing me to this!” 

Tina Choi, Investor in the Rising Tide Fund

Questions? Feedback? Have a story to share?
We want to hear from you. Email us at hello@femalefunders.com

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Tour of Tech: Nigeria 2015

Tuor of Tech

I dream of a global network of women entrepreneurs and investors. Women around the globe have so many commonalities, and also fascinating diverse perspectives and experiences. We can learn so much from each other. One of the most exciting things about my work in activating new women angels is that we can support deserving women entrepreneurs who may not find capital elsewhere, due to their gender. When we combine one woman’s capital  and support with another woman’s world-changing idea, visions become real.  How much more exciting is it to be able to do this on a global scale? Women around the world intimately understand the problems in their communities and have innovative solutions in mind. Let’s work together to unleash those solutions!

It’s because of this dream that I am incredibly excited to be supporting the Tour of Tech 2015, by Ingressive. This is an opportunity for investors from around the world to meet the top African entrepreneurs at two major gatherings happening in Lagos, Nigeria, this coming September. Over half of the trip itinerary will be focused specifically on women entrepreneurs and their ecosystem support in Africa.

Please consider joining me on this unique trip if you would like to:
– Experience first-hand the startup ecosystem in Africa
– Support women working together globally to advance innovation
– Build your entrepreneurial networks in Africa
– Find the best angel investment opportunities in Africa, which are some of the best in the world.

Below please find the official trip description.  I know you will want to know more, so please contact me.  I hope to see you in Nigeria!



Tour of Tech: 2015

Ingressive is leading an angel investor trip to She Leads Africa, the continent’s most prestigious showcase for the top women-led startups, and DEMO Africa, a two-day expo for the fastest growing high tech, AI, robotics, and software startups.

We have partnered with Tastemakers, a local agency providing world-class travel services, as well as the opportunity to experience culture, venues, and nightlife as only locals do. It will be quite the adventure.

Past attendees have included Dangote, Bola Adesola (CEO Standard Chartered), Jason Njoku (Founder iROKO TV), and Hakeen Belo-Osagie (Chairman Etisalat Nigeria).

Media coverage includes Forbes, The Guardian, Black Enterprise, BusinessDay, Lions Africa, Atlanta Blackstar, Techabal, and Bella Naija—to name a few.

From September 20-27, we invite angels from around the world to join us in Lagos for a trip packed with local tours, private startup dinners, meetings and mentorings with some of the most influential minds of Africa.

Now is the perfect time to look carefully at opportunities across the continent. Six of the ten fastest growing economies as well as the fastest growing consumer class are in Africa. No other region currently has the dynamic combination of rapidly growing markets, maturing financial infrastructure, growing political stability, and dramatically increasing investment activity by private investors and major multinationals. Join us, empower women, build startups, and gain exclusive access to some of the highest performing companies on the continent.

Please contact suzanne@me.com for trip details.

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Women Investors Retreat


Six passionate, intelligent, high-impact women, on retreat in the mountains of Lake Tahoe, drinking wine, doing yoga, discussing the meaning of success and brainstorming how to make a lot of money while creating a better future for all of the world’s inhabitants. Seriously. What could be better? Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, we actually got stuff done.

On Sunday morning, Jagruti led us in twelve sun salutations. She explained that in her culture, we bless the sun because it always rises, no matter what. Plus, it allows us to see the faces of our loved ones. Then, we pulled out a laptop and started filling in the online forms to generate the documents that will create our Limited Liability Corporation, named Impact With Wings, LLC. We chose a CEO (Hana), decided how many units of the company we will each start with, and how the managing founders will make decisions. And because we are women, we had to multitask. Just forming a company does not occupy all of our capabilities. Karen cooked an amazing frittata for us while 11-year-old Ian entertained Karen’s 2-year-old Reeve. Christine wrote some paragraphs for her chapter of our book, and posted an entry to our Wingpact blog. Sheila washed dishes. When the morning was over, our company was formed (mostly), and we all felt refreshed and pampered.

I think this is how women would do everything, if the ways of the world allowed it. I am so blessed to be able to see the sun-kissed faces of my beautiful and inspiring colleagues who are also my dear friends.

When I got home, I realized…passionate, intelligent, high-impact women need this kind of time! It is a necessity to keep our ideas flowing and our confidence in our crazy dreams alive. Women investors need to go on retreat together. The numbers of women investors are increasing, but we are still a minority. We still feel isolated, especially in the venture capital environment.

I envision a weekend getaway where women who invest in early stage startups, whether as angels, VCs, or some combination, can relax and urge each other on to those bigger and better things that we hold in our hearts.

Soft beds and very comfortable accommodations. Clear, crisp air of close proximity to nature. Nourishing food, with wine and chocolate. Women cooking for each other, but that’s optional. (We bond in the kitchen but we hate it when it’s obligatory.) Gentle, cleansing exercise (also optional). Big ideas flow easily and interweave with personal truths. When we leave at the end of the gathering, we are more ourselves than we were when we arrived.

Would you attend a retreat like this? Would you be willing to brainstorm with me about what would make this retreat perfect for you? Let me know – leave a comment!

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Revolution in the Valley

Dear Friends,

I am honored to be featured in this Huffington Post piece, along with Jackie Speier, Kay Koplovitz, and Ari Horie.  I love how Julie Barnes doesn’t mince words regarding how serious women are about crashing through barriers and creating the future we want. This post, in tone and content, is right along the lines of what I am using my blog to create. Thank you, Julie, for your truth-telling, and for agreeing to let me re-post here.


This is a reprint of an article by , Founder and CEO, Julie Barnes Live here at the Huffington Post. You can follow Julie Barnes on Twitter.


I recently had the pleasure of attending a roundtable discussion on women’s entrepreneurship hosted by the Women’s Startup Lab in the heart of Silicon Valley. In attendance was the U.S. Representative for California’s 14th congressional district, Jackie Speier.

It was inspiring to hear of her commitment to not only women entrepreneurs, but to all women of California.

An interesting mix of entrepreneurs attended: some, like me, were service-based businesses, but the majority of the women in attendance were women founders of tech companies. The one common thread among us was that all of our businesses were helping to create change and make the world a better place in some small way.

We all know that starting any business is not for the faint of heart, but what was astounding to hear about were the obstacles that the women tech founders still have to persevere through as entrepreneurs. These stories included everything from women not being taken seriously because they are women to their endless difficulties in trying to obtain investment funding for their startups.

One founder shared that she spent countless days trying to obtain funding in the early stages of her company. Some days, she was out pitching to investors up to five times a day only to hear, “Come back when you have ‘xyz.'” When she did come back with ‘xyz,’ she would be turned down again, and another request for more information or proof would follow.

Another founder shared about the endless sexism that women in tech experience, along with sexual harassment from male investors. One founder spoke up to share that when she did obtain funding after a successful pitch, the investor handed her a check and said, “This is the first time I have ever invested without receiving ‘special favors.'”

It’s the endless stories like these that are inspiring women entrepreneurs to take action to create a women-driven ecosystem, a system of partnership where women invest in each other through knowledge, support, and collaboration. But it’s important to note that men are not excluded from the community.

When I spoke with Ari Horie, founder and CEO of Women’s Startup Lab about this new movement, she said, “I would argue that all people thrive in the community, not just women.”

However, Women’s Startup Lab is providing female tech founders an alternative accelerator model that leverages network assets and professional coaching to foster business growth. “We are high caliber and high energy to yield results for our cohort members’ businesses. The work of Women’s Startup Lab gives the tech industry more and more examples that female tech leaders are future innovators and major players in the industry,” Horie explains.

The Women’s Startup Lab is showing their current cohort members and other female tech leaders that it’s possible to achieve your business goals despite the obstacles the entrepreneurial path gives us by leveraging their unique business experiences into an investment thesis that venture capitalists and large conglomerates find attractive.

Recent alumni Monique Giggy, co-founder of Swing by Swing, a free golf GPS range finder application, and Liesl Capper, co-founder of Cognea, a cognitive computing and conversational artificial intelligence platform, went through Women’s Startup Lab’s program in 2012 and both operations were recently acquired by larger companies, Swing by Swing by Back9Network and Cognea by IBM Watson.

I recently interviewed Kay Koplovitz on this very topic. Koplovitz is the co-founder of Springboard Enterprises, a premier platform where influencers, investors and innovators meet to help women build ‘big’ businesses. Koplovitz is also known as the game-changing entrepreneur who founded USA Networks and the SyFy Channel.

Springboard launched officially in Silicon Valley on January 27, 2000, to select, train and present women entrepreneurs in technology and life science to raise venture capital. It was a very different world then, one in which women were almost entirely absent. Springboard had to change perceptions about women building scalable businesses, open doors to raise capital, and create the support systems all entrepreneurs need to grow to success.

“In the intervening years, we have brought over 550 companies to market, and they have collectively raised over $6.5 billion,” explains Koplovitz, adding that more than a third have experienced positive liquidity events, with 11 IPOs from companies including iRobot, Constant Contact, and Zipcar.

In a 2013 article by Forbes, it was reported that women control US $20 trillion in annual consumer spending. I began to wonder what kind of impact could be made if more women invested in women-led companies.

I reached out to Suzanne Andrews, Partner, Impact With Wings and recent graduate of the Pipeline Fellowship, an angel investing boot camp for women, for her thoughts on the matter. “Women unquestionably have significant resources at our disposal. It seems to me that if we really looked at how to put these resources to work, we as women could have a lot of control over what kind of future is created,” Andrews says.

Andrews became interested in angel investing for one simple reason: statistics show women founders are more successful in creating and running businesses, yet they’re still underfunded in comparison to their male counterparts.

“Despite all of the research that has come out over the last two decades showing what a great investment opportunity women are, the behavior of the primarily male investment community has not changed very much,” Andrews explains.

But with organizations like Women’s Startup Lab and Pipeline Fellowship coming onto the scene, there may finally be some changes on the horizon for women in business. Andrews says, “With more women angel investors, and women in all stages of the investing pipeline, I expect we will be able to create a new playing field where gender is not an issue.”

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