Female Innovators Lab: From Early to Exit

Katie Palencsar
Nov 18, 2019 · 4 min read

It is no secret that cultivating a strong and robust network is part of the formula that builds successful entrepreneurs and executives — in any industry. If you’re anything like me and have been on the tech scene for some years, you have been to a huge number of events and conferences. In building a strong network this way, you begin to see the same faces again and again. You start to engage in the same conversations and can quickly lose sight of how you are moving the needle.

Scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner suggests that human development is based on seven-year cycles. Quite simply, your mind and body significantly change every seven years. In 2012, I attended my very first tech conference and, shortly after that, I joined a founders group that met privately to signpost ‘female-friendly’ investors and those to avoid. There I met some fantastic women founders and investors who have been addressing the female funding gap and the conversation around it.

The mindset and conversation from seven years ago has changed. We are in a new cycle. We have more data, more capital opportunities and more experiences to share. My favorite quote of all time is, “you can’t be what you don’t see.” We’re seeing females involved in entrepreneurship and investment now more than ever. According to All Raise, female-founded startups have continually comprised around 20% of all VC-backed companies going back several years in the post-crisis tech boom, and the ratio of these businesses has improved substantially since 2010, when they made up only 11.8% of the market. I firmly believe that we will see massive network effects of this over the next seven years.

Recently, I joined Anthemis to lead the Female Innovators Lab, a New York City-based studio in partnership with Barclays dedicated to cultivating entrepreneurial talent in women from all sides of the financial services ecosystem. And, seven years after my first outing on the tech scene, in November 2019, I had the privilege to host an event for some of the women that were part of that initial conversation.

In 2012, the conversation was dominated by the following questions:

  • How do we fill a room to create networks of female founders, investors and supporters?
  • What does it mean to have a ‘seat at the table’?
  • How do we provide access to capital for female founders?
  • Why are there not more women building venture-backed businesses?
  • Should I start a business even though I don’t have a sales or technical background?

Fast-forward to 2019, Cat Hernandez of Primary Ventures, Jess Gartner of Allovue, Jules Miller of IBM Blockchain Ventures, and Sarah Michalczuk of predictaBill were steering the conversation in a refreshingly different direction. I was particularly struck by the candor and solid advice offered by these women and how much more access to capital, support and network we have as women on the scene today. It was about action; it was about leveling up and bringing your authentic self to the growth of your business. Some of the key takeaways included:

When building your venture-backed business, investors are looking at 1) market size 2) team 3) and then 3) the business, because the business will not look the same years down the line. Cat Hernandez, Partner, Primary Ventures.

We were deliberate about building a diverse board of directors. When negotiating terms, I asked for the only female VP in the organization to think about how you can help each other on both sides of the equation. What we need is sponsorship. Jess Gartner, CEO, Allovue.

Be yourself when you are pitching; your personality should come through. I’ve stopped telling myself I need to walk like a man, talk like a man to get access to investment. Jules Miller, Partner, IBM Blockchain Ventures.

I left investment banking, set on solving health insurance bill prediction and recruiting a technical team. I suggest leaning into the most uncomfortable of networking events to truly expand your network. Sarah Michalczuk, Founder and CEO, predictabill.

The room was filled with a mix of investors, entrepreneurs and financial services executives committed to cultivating change in the industry and genuinely addressing the female funding gap for female entrepreneurs. I’m excited to see what the next seven years have in store. As the Lead on the Female Innovators Lab, I’m committed to helping to set up female founders for success by providing them with access to the people, resources and networks they need to develop companies that have been ‘bulletproofed’ and are ready for outside investment. To learn about the venture studio and future events, visit our website or reach out to us on femaleinnovatorslab@anthemis.com.