Female Founders


Female Founders


Female Founders Numbers Grow Faster

Female Founder Entrepreneurship Is Significant

Investors In Female Founder Business

Female Founders’ Advice for Female Founders


Female Founders are growing in numbers, as are businesses with with women co-founders. The 2015 year was transformational for women entrepreneurs and their businesses. Women are starting 1,200 new businesses per day – they are inventing products, solving problems, creating jobs and supporting their communities.

While female founders are still considered a minority, that simply denigrates those businesses which they do create and lead. People are business founders. People of all types. However there are some gender issues that women still face.

The plain fact is that women are probably more open than men about the insecurity that often accompanies the process of starting a business. Men will tend to hide or ignore their own frailties. However, for start-ups with five or more females, 61% were successful and only 39% failed (Dow Jones).

I am not suggesting that either gender makes a better entrepreneur. I recommend bringing attributes traditionally associated with women to bear in a startup venture to enhance stability and success, whether there is a female founder/cofounder present to not. Businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding (64 percent higher and 49 percent higher, respectively), according to the Women Entrepreneurs 2014 report from the Diana Project, which engages in research activities, forums and scholarship focusing on women entrepreneurs and their growth (at Babson College).

Danielle Tate, author of Elegant EntrepreneurThis Female Founders page of Startup Owl has been created with Danielle Tate, author of the Elegant Entrepreneur, and founder of missnowmrs.com, the name-changing website. Danielle’s book is a very good primer on starting a business for someone of either gender, but as it is written from a female perspective, it may encourage and inform female founders more easily than books written by men.

What’s really good about Danielle’s approach to entrepreneurship is that she is severely practical, while at the same time being acutely aware of how it feels as a female founder. She also describes how women can cope with the many conflicts that are part and parcel of starting a business.

Female Founders Numbers Grow Faster

The 9.9 million women-owned firms in 2012 were up more than 2 million from five years earlier, when there were 7.8 million women-owned businesses, a 26.8 percent increase, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business Owners. As a comparison, male-owned firms increased 6.8 percent from 13.9 million to 14.8 million during the same period. Nearly 90 percent of women-owned firms were nonemployer firms. This is higher than the total proportion of nonemployer firms, which is 80.4 percent (22.2 million nonemployer firms). Receipts for women-owned firms rose 18.7 percent, from $1.2 trillion in 2007 to $1.4 trillion in 2012.

There is no evidence for why this was happening, whether to do with government/tax incentives or, more likely in my opinion, there are changes in society propelling it. The readers of this Female Founders page will draw their own conclusions.

Investors In Female Founder Business

There is a growing band of investors seeking to put money into female-led startups. Here is a list of organizations, both profit and nonprofit, which the Startup Owl has compiled:
  1. Aligned Partners: an early stage venture investor with two female co-founders.
  2. Amber Grant Foundation: began in 1998, launched in conjunction with the entrepreneurial community for women, set up to honor the memory of a special young woman who died at 19 years old.
  3. Aspect Ventures: long term investors founded by women tech entrepreneurs.
  4. Astia Capital Runway: identifies investment-ready companies with women in positions of leadership and provides them access to capital and resources.
  5. Belle Capital USAis an early stage angel fund focused on building companies in underserved capital markets, with at least one female founder or C-level exec, and/or be willing to recruit top female talent to the C-suite and Board of Directors.
  6. Broadway Angels: all of whom just happen to be women; 40% of their investments are in female founder businesses.
  7. Brooklyn Bridge Ventures: leads or co-leads investments of around $250,000 in New York City area, and 61 percent—portion of portfolio made up of female-founded startups.
  8. Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards: an international business plan competition created in 2006 by Cartier, the Women’s Forum, McKinsey & Company and INSEAD business school to identify, support and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs.
  9. Count Me In: not-for-profit provider of resources, business education and community support for women entrepreneurs seeking to grow micro-businesses into million dollar enterprises.
  10. Cowboy Ventures: helps seed-stage technology companies grow; the female founder was previously at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
  11. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant: supports innovative, women-owned companies that are beyond the start-up phase and ready to expand their business and their potential for positive social and environmental impact.
  12. EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women: a national competition and executive leadership program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale-and then helps them do it.
  13. Female Founders Fund: known as F-cubed, they invest in the exponential power of exceptional female talent, focused on e-commerce, media, platforms, advertising, web-enabled services.
  14. Forerunner Ventures: the female founder is managing director, Kirsten Green, defines itself as a “female VC firm” that focuses on early-stage investments in “innovative, vertically integrated brands.
  15. Golden Seeds: a discerning group of investors, seeking and funding high-potential, women-led businesses; have invested in over 65 women-led enterprises.
  16. Illuminate Ventures:  in the B2B/Enterprise cloud and mobile computing space; the female founder is the managing partner.
  17. Intel Diversity Fund: the largest venture capital fund ever created to focus on female and underrepresented minority entrepreneurs.
  18. Jump Fund: invests in women’s capital in female-led companies with growth potential in order to generate a strong financial return and elevate the role of women in business.
  19. Moola Hoop: is a crowdfunding platform that helps women with small businesses reward themselves and their customers.
  20. Sara Blakely Foundation and Spanx Leg-Up: the Foundation is dedicated to helping women globally and locally through education and entrepreneurship; Leg Up® uses the Spanx catalog, spanx.com and social media to support female entrepreneurs and their businesses/products.
  21. Phenomenelle Angels Fund: is an early stage fund that invests in women and minority owned or managed businesses in Wisconsin and the Midwest
  22. Pipeline Fellowship: works to increase diversity in the U.S. angel investing community and create capital for women social entrepreneurs.
  23. Plum Alley: is an early stage company. It began as a platform for highlighting the innovations and contributions women were making in tech and as entrepreneurs, that introduced crowdfunding in 2013.
  24. Rivet Ventures: Shadi Mehraein & Rebecca Hwang the cofounders invest in in companies in women-led markets where female usage, decision-making, and purchasing are crucial to company growth. They back both male and female founders.
  25. Sogal: a platform that empowers emerging entrepreneurs to succeed, and a community that unites global young founders to change the world.
  26. Springboard Enterprises: a highly-vetted expert network of innovators, investors and influencers who are dedicated to building high-growth technology-oriented companies led by women.
  27. The Refinery: fuels the growth of early stage companies with at least one woman in a leadership role. The Refinery provides the tools, resources and capital for smart women to build great companies.
  28. Tory Burch Foundation: has developed programs and initiatives that invest in the success and sustainability of women-owned small businesses.
  29. Triton Ventures: founded by Laura Kilcrease in Austin, T. Their investment focus is on spinout companies.
  30. Valor VC: founded by Lisa Calhoun and based in Atlanta, they invest in  fintech, healthtech, and consumer tech entrepreneurs, specially those with game-changing technologies that simplify people’s lives.
  31. Women’s Financial Fund: awards grants to new and existing businesses from $100 to $5,000.
  32. Women’s Venture Capital Fund: invests in women entrepreneurs leading gender diverse teams and creating high growth companies in digital media and sustainable products and services
  33. Women’s Venture Fund: a nonprofit organization that helps women to establish thriving businesses in urban communities with funding and business development programs.
  34. Many duplicates, but some additional sources are listed on Tech Inclusion.
37 Angels activates the untapped capital and experience women can bring to investing in male and female-led ventures. When they started, 13% of angel investors were women.  They want that number to be 50%. BELLE Capital is an early stage angel fund focused on building great companies in underserved capital markets across the USA. These are two outfits thatI learned about though my friendship with Anders Ferguson of Veris Capital, who specialize in gender lens investing, among other specialisms in sustainable wealth management.
A Guide to Women- and Minority-Owned Business Funding Opportunities, a report by US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is a useful guide to most of the Federal programs.
The Majority Report of the US Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, 21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship, also is interesting reading. The report points out that while Government has never met its goal of awarding 5 percent of Federal contracts to women-owned businesses, if they did, women-owned businesses would have access to marketplace opportunities worth at least $4 billion each year. Even better is if you can get what is called an 8a registration, since in the Federal ‘Set-Aside’ system there are only 5,000 or so 8a vendors, whereas there are 70,000 women registered. To bid on government contracts, you need a (free) DUNS number, and to know your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code Number. Ask Will for more information about the SAM (System for Award Management) required for all Federal contractors.
If you really don’t know where to start, there is a very good short course called Entrepreneurship: The Startup Guide for Female Founders that you can do online in a few hours—and it will only cost you $20!

Female Founders’ Advice for Female Founders

Read this wise counsel and you will see that different as the advice is from each female founder, there is a thread of caring and learning that runs through them all.

Rachel Maxwell of Community Sourced Capital1: Rachel is the founder and CEO of the Seattle-based company, that exists so that businesses can access affordable capital from their community. If a business isn’t ready to access a community loan, the team at CSC connects them to a network of partners who can. She says, “Start with the understanding that all businesses serve society. Be sure you deeply understand who your business serves and how. Before you start, be certain that you are passionately committed to that service. Consult with people who work in the field. Resist the impulse to please everyone. Step outside your comfort zone. And once you’ve done all that– trust your gut!

Laura Bosworth2 of Tevidobiodevices: Laura is the founder of a Texas biotechnology company using 3D bio-printing of a woman’s own living cells – to build custom grafts for breast cancer reconstruction, and she says, “Know your numbers!  Know your market size, understand what it costs to manufacture, to market, to sell, know how many customers you need to make a living, scale a business, do your financial projections as early as you can. Everything can be updated in your plan as you learn more.

Julie Fahnestock of BStorytelling: Julie is one of my graduates, founded a content development company  in Florida, designed to popularize the good happening through business. Her advice:  ”Set boundaries and develop a set of best practices with clients and customers before you set up your first meeting or sign your first proposal. Be picky about the people to whom you give your creative energy and valuable time. Set hours, practice saying no and don’t be afraid to fire clients who deem themselves inappropriate. I never thought I’d have to explain to a male client why I didn’t want to meet at his home on a Saturday. In firing him, I lost several thousand dollars and several hours of time. If I had interviewed him more intentionally and not gotten lost in dollar signs I would have seen his true colors and saved a lot of time and emotional energy.”

Merin Guthrieof The Kit Company: Merin is the founder of Kit, a Texas-based e-commerce company that leverages on-demand, USA-based manufacturing to solve the problem of fit for women’s clothing. Her advice: “Be prepared to iterate. Know going in that you will learn on your feet and make lots of tweaks very quickly. Listen to your customers, listen to your investors, and when its time to make a change, dive in and don’t look back.”  

Caroline Nguyen of Momworkforce: Caroline is the founder of Momworkforce that aims to be the marketplace of choice connecting employers and mothers in tech. She invites you to ask yourself three questions, and believes it takes careful consideration of the above questions to get a good start.

  1. What is my passion and how can I infuse my business with that passion? Even for motivated, well-educated women, personal and professional obstacles are inevitable. If you are not truly committed to your ultimate cause, mustering the perseverance to sustain yourself through rejections, technical challenges, and a multitude of other unexpected hurdles will be impossible. Use your passion as the basis for a project that has a purpose that is meaningful to you.
  2. Where am I in life? Evaluate your current life situation carefully. How big a risk can you take at a given moment? Consider how your decision to undertake an entrepreneurial venture will impact other aspects of your life. Likewise, consider how not taking a challenge might affect you down the road; would you regret not pursuing your dream because of proximate responsibilities that you feel are insurmountable?
  3. What resources do I currently have available to me? Do your research. Use reputable, well-established sources to help you find the most effective means of support for your project. Focus on initiatives for women in business which have grown enormously in recent years–tap into those resources and the community of women entrepreneurs they are helping to cultivate. It is a wonderful moment to be a female entrepreneur! Make the most of programs, networks, and funding sources that exist.

Dr Noa Ruschin Rimini of Grid4C: Noa is founder and CEO of this Texas company, that empowers all energy value chain participants by providing them the power to foresee, leveraging advanced Machine Learning capabilities to deliver accurate, granular predictions, which are crucial for tackling the rising challenges of today’s energy industry. Her idea is that, “There is nothing more exciting and fulfilling than building your own business from scratch and creating a venture that makes a real difference in the world. My advice is to make sure you are providing real value, stay focused, there will be many distractions. Mistakes and bumps are bound to happen along the way, but perseverance pays off. Moreover, don’t be afraid to let your personal values determine how you measure success.  We all have different goals, and it is easy to get burnt out if you try to play your game using someone else’s rules.  Lastly, for female entrepreneurs specifically, I encourage women to alway remember that their gender is a bonus, not a barrier, and to diligently approach both strategic and day-to-day business decisions with that in mind.”  

… and there are 15 more female founders giving tips on starting a business, at Female Founder Fridays. And if you want to be really well-informed, go to the Female Entrepreneurs Institute and read tons of female founder profiles. And make a point of reading The Lioness regularly—it’s a magazine devoted to female founders.

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1 CSC is a certified BCorporation, as is TechRanch Austin (see below).

2 These two female founders are ‘graduates’ of TechRanch Austin, founded by my friend Kevin Koym, to bring entrepreneurs from all stages together to fill in the missing pieces and leverage the social capital of the community of practice TechRanch has created.