When Sharelle Klaus launched Dry Soda in 2005 to produce and distribute her brand of nonalcoholic beverages to high-end restaurants and food retailers, she didn't have to look far for potential backers. As president of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs in Seattle, it was her job to network with angel investors. So when it was time to raise equity capital of her own, she quickly put her address book to work. "When I started, all my connections were with high-tech investors," recalls Klaus, 37, "but those high-tech investors knew other investors." Not only did those other connections invest in her business, but they also helped her staff the approximately $1.5 million company and find distributors. Klaus also recently completed a $1.5 million round of angel financing.
A recent study from the University of New Hampshire Center for Venture Research shows that women outperformed all entrepreneurs in receiving angel investments to fund their business ventures in 2005. Although women-led ventures accounted for 8.7 percent of the entrepreneurs seeking angel capital, 33 percent of those women received angel dollars in 2005, while the overall rate was just 23 percent, according to the study.
"That's a really recent trend, and I was amazed when I saw it," admits Stephanie Hanbury-Brown, founder of Golden Seeds LLC, an angel investor group based in Cos Cob, Connecticut, that invests exclusively in women-led firms. "The [number of] women entrepreneurs getting venture capital has [hit] a 10-year low."
"At the same time, women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men today," Hanbury-Brown adds, citing a statistic from the Center for Women's Business Research. "The quality of the women starting businesses and the quality of the businesses they are starting has increased in the past several years."
But advocates for women-led firms argue that entrepreneurs like Klaus may be exceptions. More often than not, they say, women entrepreneurs lack access to the traditionally male world of angel investing. That--combined with angels' tendencies to invest in only high-tech ventures--has kept many women entrepreneurs at arm's length.
"[Until recently], women's experiences were more in industries that didn't grow in scale as much, so they were not as likely to be candidates for large equity investments," says Marianne Hudson, director of angel initiatives for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
In fact, it was the "imbalance of VC investments that go to men entrepreneurs" that moved Hanbury-Brown to launch Golden Seeds in 2004. "I realized women were starting companies in a whole range of industries [where] typical angel investors probably would not get beyond the executive summaries in their business plans," says Hanbury-Brown, whose group invests in a variety of industries in addition to technology.
Currently, only about half a dozen women angel groups operate in the U.S. However, that number is likely to grow. "Anecdotally, I would say there is a trend toward more women becoming investors but also more women becoming investors and wanting to invest in women," says Maggie Kenefake, manager of growth entrepreneurship for the Kauffman Foundation.
Experts say women investors are more likely to support a broader range of investment opportunities. Adds Kenefake, "Their number-one priority is a solid investment and a healthy financial return, but I think women investors [are] bringing different life experiences to the table, [giving] them a different perspective, and perhaps they will consider opportunities that their male counterparts might not."