Girls Who Fund: What Happens When Four 17 Year Olds Take Over Your VC

Girls Who Fund Class of 2015: (L to R) Lila Jansen, Jennifer Wang, Amanda Chen and Anastasia Efremenkia

For those of you who don’t know, the BBG in BBG Ventures is a h/t to something we started just over a year ago — #BUILTBYGIRLS. At the time, the hashtag was simply a way to collate content around a partnership we started with Girls Who Code. We turned over the AOL website I was running at the time, Cambio, to five GWC alumna to re-imagine and rebuild the site. As we watched these five 17 year olds dive into rebuilding a website — everything from editorial to design to coding the mission of #BUILTBYGIRLS was formed quickly and organically:

“Be anything you want to be and build anything you want to build. We believe young women should be builders, creators and innovators — the protagonists in their own lives.”

But more specifically, as we watched these young women we realized how important it was to find ways to challenge young women to participate in this tech-enabled economy. Each girl came into our program as novice coders — but they also found that being exposed to computer science had led them to a better understanding of the many paths open to them: from new interests in cyber security to UX/UI to mobile analytics. Putting their skills into practice in a real world work environment, for a real product with a real audience helped them realize that whether you want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, or build the next great fashion empire, technology can fuel your passion, and drive your success.

Not long after the Summer 2014 program, Susan Lyne and I launched BBG Ventures — a early seed stage venture fund focused on investing in consumer internet and mobile start-ups with at least one female founder. (As I write this, we just hit our 1-year anniversary. Seventeen investments in, and one new website, Susan and I have a lot of thoughts — both lessons, and musings — which I’ll save for the next post.) It was fitting then that our next #BBG program would tackle a new, timely topic — how do you fill that other tech pipeline that’s so often talked about as missing women? Venture Capital. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code often says: “You can only be what you can see.” It was something we took to heart when we did the Cambio program to teach young women about running a digital media business, but we realized that in a world where <10% of venture funding goes to female founders and only 4% of the decisions makers (VC partners) are women, that lesson was even more important here. How does a young woman even find her way in to venture capital?

So we launched Girls Who Fund.

The program

We interviewed dozens of tech-obsessed Girls Who Code alumna to select 4 whip-smart college-bound interns from the East and West Coast: Lila Jansen, Anastasia Efremenkia, Amanda Chen and Jennifer Wang who are headed to MIT, UPenn, Cornell and NYU respectively this Fall, each majoring in Computer Science or Finance (not a prerequisite, just a coincidence).

We created a two-part summer program — the first half on start-ups, and the second on venture capital. (The second piece doesn’t make much sense without the first, it turns out.) We knew we couldn’t just teach this ourselves — hearing firsthand from people doing this every day was going to be way more fun (and much better learning). So we assembled some of the best and brightest founders and VCs in NYC to help — and tasked them with interactive sessions that covered real life case studies, work-shopping examples and making sure the interns walked away with the three most important things they needed to know about the topic.

In Start-up 101 we covered everything from Intro to Entrepreneurship, Public Speaking, Formulating a Unique Value Proposition, Product Development, Market Analysis, Business Model Development, Start-up Financing 101, Fundraising 101, Negotiation, Building Your Brand, and Marketing Your Business (and Yourself) thanks to Rachel Blumenthal (Cricket’s Circle), @Mackenzie Barth & Sarah Adler (Spoon University), Benjamin McKean (HungryRoot), Alison Schwartz (Lulu), Jules Miller (Hire an Esquire), Renee Robbie & Giorgia Rossi (Lookbooker), Amy Snook (VSC), Christina Bechhold (Empire Angels) and Kate Shillo (Galvanize).

In VC 101 we talked Fundraising, the VC Landscape, Angels & Accelerators, VC Diligence and Decision Making, Pitching Dos and Don’ts, How to Create an Awesome Deck, Term Sheets and Valuation, Market Sizing, and How VCs Add Value After Investment thanks to Rick Heitzman and Sutian Dong (Firstmark), Ellie Wheeler (Greycroft), Alex Iskold (Techstars), Andrea Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau) Talia Goldberg (Bessemer), Benjamin Sun (Primary), Not Your Typical VC/Sumeet Shah(Brand Foundry), Katie Bolin (Spark) and Anarghya Vardhana (Rothenberg).

The GWF interns sat in on 3 pitch meetings a week with Susan and I during their summer. At the end of every week we asked them to present to us on whether they’d invest in any of those start-ups, and why. Fun fact: of the 15 or so start-ups they saw with us this summer, we’ve actually invested in the two start-ups they liked best.

Along the way they spent time with folks across product, engineering, growth and marketing at established start-ups like Uber, Handy, Casper, Bustle, Glamsquad, Lulu and Hire an Esquire — getting to see real time what life is like at a (50) billion dollar start-up all the way to a Series A start-up.

So, basically, that’s how I wish I’d spent my summer when I was 17. In fact, I’d wager that there are plenty of 20 or 30 somethings that wish they had spent their summer like this.

The Challenge

What better way to put your VC skills to test than have to fund someone? Tomorrow, we’re holding the #BUILTBYGIRLS Challenge at the Twitter offices in San Francisco. Over 185 teams from Girls Who Code summer programs around the country have submitted their final projects to our competition. The Girls Who Fund interns spent 3 days pouring over submissions ranging from mobile apps to games to physical computing, judging them for innovation, opportunity, creativity and technical application to select 5 finalist teams. Those teams will present their projects to the Girls Who Fund for a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship from #BBG and an anonymous GWC donor, to take their project further, and mentorship from BBG Ventures as well as the opportunity to exhibit at Start-Up Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt next week.

The Girls Who Fund will be mentored by industry experts Dana Stalder (Matrix), Shanna Tellerman (CEO, stealth start-up, ex-GV), Eurie Kimm (Forerunner Ventures) and Lauren Kolodnyodny (Aspect Ventures) as they work through their decision. Stay tuned for the winner.

What we learned

1. Apprenticeship internships are king. And I mean real apprenticeships. The GWF interns sat in on pitch meetings every week with us. While I’d love to say that it was all about the deep learning program we created with over 40 speaker sessions from incredible people in the business, I’m sure our interns will agree with me when I say nothing initiates you better in this job that sitting in on a dozen pitch meetings, having to dig in and then debate the merits of a start-up real time with VCs. (Of course, getting 1 on 4 time with people like Rick, Ellie and Alex doesn’t hurt either.)

2. You definitely believe you can be what you see. I’m confident every one of our GWF interns is going to go on to be a founder or a VC. Now they’ve been part of this world, even for a summer — you can see a world of opportunity and imagination suddenly reflected in their eyes, and they’re hungry for it.

3. A 17 year old can be an awesome intern. The GWF group are some of the most intellectually curious, inquisitive, thoughtful young women I’ve met. Tackling the pipeline issue for women in tech head-on, from the top of the funnel is easier than we think if we invite them into the circle.

4. Building on existing work is the best way to further a mission. Partnering with Girls Who Code and being a complement to their vision helps us get there faster. There is so much great work being done in this space — and it’s important to band together to lift all boats.

5. The VC and founder community is deeply passionate about this issue. Not a single person we asked to give up their time for the program said no, and many more said: how can I be more involved next time?

The answer is this — be a #BUILTBYGIRLS VC firm next summer. We want to see 5 VCs in Silicon Valley and 5 on the East Coast take on #BBG interns in 2016. We’ll help you run the program, you help us get young women into tech.

Follow us @bbgventures and @builtbygirls on Twitter.