Lets Also Address Funding Female Founders

On Monday, I was interviewed for NBC News Bay Area segment about the recent stories of sexual harassment of women by some men in the venture capital community.

Harassment is not a new story in start-ups and venture, last year’s “The Elephant in the Valley Survey” reported that 60% of Silicon Valley women working in tech have had to cope with inapproriate sexual advances. Recently one of my advisees told me how a potential major client insisted on a dinner meeting and proceeded to come on to her. She left and lost the client opportunity as well. Kudos to the courageous women who spoke out. With the recent confessions, apologies, and dismissals, it now appears that Silicon Valley is finally able to talk about and address this critical issue. However the larger issue of how female entrepreneurs are treated, especially in regard to fundraising, needs much more attention.

In the NBC interview, I remark that there is:

“ . . . such an emphasis on pattern matching and bro culture and if you don’t fit that perceived entreprenurial look of a twentysomething guy in a hoodie, your chances when you walk in [to the meeting], are down.”

As Co-Founder and CEO of Babierge, I know that fundraising for an early stage consumer service is difficult no matter who you are. But I am struck by some of the other difficulties that I attribute to being female and in my 50s despite my considerable experience bulding companies and brands (from Match.com in mid-90s to TRUSTe from 2001 to 2012). Babierge baby gear rental marketplace is aimed at women and families. Unlike many of my cohort mates at StartX (Stanford affiliated accelerator), our technology platform is not likely to change the world. That said, we have traction: We delivered gear to nearly 400 traveling families last month! We have found a large market of grateful parents and grandparents looking for quality gear. Demand is massive and up to now this market has been underserved.

Fellow female founders and I often share stories, contacts, and approaches to raising money. Here’s what we face:

  • Disinterest and/or lack of understanding of the problem we solve (because we are solving problems for families and/or women)
  • Lack of respect and quick dismissal of our ideas
  • Stronger push for lower valuations or some kind of “deal”
  • The need to bring a guy to the pitch meeting
  • Navigating the fine line between confidence and perception of being too “aggressive.” I was recentlytold by one potential investor that he found me “abrasive.”

As a somewhat older woman, I’ve been asked if I’m “still hungry.” One potential investor, someone who I’ve worked with before, indicated that he got the problem we’re solving, but he doesn’t invest in entrepreneurs over 42.

And finally, perhaps most importantly, we often feel we are not given that extra benefit of the doubt — the lift — that’s often extended to male founders.

Kym McNicholas (also interviewed for the NBC clip) and I host a radio show “Female Seeking Startup” where we interview female founders. Our goal is to give more attention to female entrepreneuers and their stories as they are often overlooked by the media because the don’t fit the stereotype of an entrepreneuer. These women are passionate and smart about their businesses and dedicated to success. We hope by elevating their profile we can help them and also provide good advice and inspiration for other potential entrepreneurs.

I’m grateful for the funding Babierge has received so far, particularly from Theresia Gouw and Mike Weiksner. Theresia Gouw and Jennifer Fonstad’s piece “A Pledge for Decency and Broader Opportunity for All” points to a number of research reports and analysis that underscore the pervasiveness of gender bias as well as studies that show that diversity is good for the bottom line. They argue that overcoming gender bias must end if “we want parity for women in venture capital, or women seeking funding as entrepreneurs.”

Parity is also critcal to fostering innovation. Kerri Couillard, Babierge’s Founder, has an MS Degree in Computer Science. She’s a mother of two boys and had a garage full of baby gear. Like many a techy before her, she solved her problem by putting up a web site to rent her gear in Santa Fe. She had a $300 order within a couple of days and soon after, Babierge was born. Our platform is no less important than the other start-ups men start to solve their own problems, like getting a better ride, finding a room, or going on more dates.

With all this disheartening news in Silicon Valley and beyond (recent Fox dismissals for sexual harassment and rampant political misogyny), I am hopeful that we have started the conversation and that it will continue with not just talk but action:

  • Addressing unconscious gender bias and taking active action to fight it (even women exhibit bias even for their own gender!). Stanford’s Clayman Institute offers programs addressing this and sexual harassment.
  • Holding the venture community accountable to the Decency Pledge put forth by Reid Hoffman aimed at reducing unwanted sexual advances
  • Developing a “white list” of investors and firms who believe in “Broader Opportunity for All” that actively encourage, mentor and support female founders and also others who are often dismissed and overlooked, including people from any race and ethnicity, sexuality, or with disabilities
  • Supporting organizations and programs specifically aimed at developing and encouraging women in tech such as Girls in Tech (where I serve as a boardmember), Black Girls Code, Women Who Code.
  • Learning more about the challenges, check out She Started It.
  • Supporting organizations and programs for women in entrepreneurship such as Women’s Startup Lab (where I advised and met Kerri), Women 2.0, among others
  • Establishing more women-led VC firms (such as Aspect) and elevation of more women to partners in Venture firms (such as Jennie Lefcourt’s elevation at FreeStyle). (And no, we can’t expect them to make investments only in women-led businesses, but at least they will undersand more of the opportunities women are going for)
  • Investing in female founders from all VC firms and Angel Groups, beyond Golden Seeds, Astia Angels, and Portfolia who already support ventures led by women or serving the female market.
  • Higher participation of women in the top accelerators including 500 Startups, Techstars, and Y Combinator (who recently hosted the Female Founders Conference).
  • Elevating and celebrating the many women who are slogging it through with their ventures and better yet who are successful entrepreneurs! I personally admire Anna Zornosa of Ruby Ribbon (shape and sportswear), Susan O’Neal of Adjoy (reinventing store cards with vide0), Sara Schaer of Kango (rides for children), Sophia Yen of Pandia Health (birth control prescriptions online), Karen Bantuveris of Signup.com, Margot Schmorak of Hostfully (guidebooks for vacation rental guests/hosts), Karen Drexler of Sandstone Diognostics (male fertility), Lindsay Holden from Long Game (savings app), and so many others.

I was reluctant to make this post and participate in the interview because Id be perceived as having a chip on my shoulder or being dare I say, “abbrasive.” Today, I hope I can post this and share my and other female founder’s experiences without suffering a backlash in terms of fundraising.

Let’s see.