The Only Advice Women Need to Raise Capital
Search for "women and venture capital," and you'll find a lot of discussion, and data, addressing the bleak outlook for female founders. I'll spare you a lengthy search by offering up a few highlights:
- In 2017, according to PitchBook data, just 2.2 percent of all venture capital in the U.S. went to companies founded solely by women.
- Just 4.4 percent of all venture capital transactions in the U.S. were for female-founded companies.
- And 11.3 percent of partners at U.S.-based venture capital firms are female.
What is perhaps even more concerning, is that we are on a downward trend. The median valuation for female-founded companies was lower in 2017 than it was in 2007, while the opposite is true for male-founded companies. When it comes to follow-on funding and exits, we see similar gender gaps.
Thankfully, there are outliers to these data sets. At Alice, we've been studying these outliers for almost three years, and, not surprisingly, the female success stories are typically women who have strong connections to robust startup networks. Whether in the form of an established launch program like an accelerator or incubator, or through participation in a university mentor network, overwhelmingly, fundraising success is directly correlated to the power of your circle.
This isn't to say that you won't succeed in raising capital if you don't currently have a strong network, and it certainly isn't to say that a strong network guarantees your success. What it does mean is that you are greatly increasing your odds of fundraising by engaging with a startup network early on in the game of entrepreneurship.
Tapping into a strong startup network can be much easier said than done, but here are a few tips to help you out:
Find the entrepreneurs you aspire to be like.
While it's great to join communities of founders at a similar stage to you, the best and fastest way to learn how to raise capital is to connect with founders who have recently closed rounds. You can discover founders in your area who have recently closed rounds through tools like Crunchbase and PitchBook. Connect with them on LinkedIn or invite a couple of them out for coffee to see what communities they recommend.
Get to know your local startup ecosystem.
There are a wealth of programs and opportunities available to you, many of which are in your own backyard. These days, most major cities have some sort of startup support, and lots of free programming. We've shared many of these for free on HelloAlice.com, but you can also visit local coworking spaces and ask for some guidance, as most are quite tapped in to available resources in the area.
Attend pitch competitions.
In addition to offering great prizes and opportunities, pitch competitions also expose you to what investors are looking for. Listen to others sell their businesses, and also take note of what types of questions judges are asking. These are likely the same sorts of questions you'll be asked by investors during meetings. Introduce yourself to the judges, who are often angel investors or venture capitalists themselves, and follow up immediately after if you think they might be interested in investing, or have insight to offer you and your company. Pitch competitions are great resources even for those not pitching.
Not everyone has the luxury of living in a dense startup ecosystem. An increasing number of fundraising resources are now available online, including Y Combinator's Startup School, virtual mentor office hours and YouTube videos, where you can view all sorts of webinars, event and pitch competition archives.
Regardless of where you turn for guidance, remember that it is as much about the content you consume as it is the relationships you build. The more deeply integrated you are in your local startup community, the more you'll build the face-to-face relationships that will ultimately drive your business forward. If you don't have local access to these communities, identify online groups that will fuel these human connections and schedule in time to visit meaningful mentors and advisors in person on occasion.
At the end of the day, most investors will tell you that the team they're investing in is the most important factor in their decision to invest, or pass. They'll also often say that warm introductions matter, and as women, we're a particularly disadvantaged group when you consider that, according to Crunchbase, only 8 percent of partners at the top 100 venture firms are women. It is paramount that female founders broaden their networks and get connected to the mainstream startup ecosystem.
While a polished deck is important, and a scalable concept is a must, the best way to ensure that you have everything you need to line up your capital is to create a network of supporters who personally want to see you succeed. This is the network that will challenge your business model, rip apart your deck, ask you the hard questions and ensure that you're investor ready.