People 04 May 2017
While Handful was getting off the ground in 2006, Cary Goldberg, a young mother of two girls discovered a lump in her breast. That lump turned out to be breast cancer. Over the next five years, Goldberg endured a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, biologic therapy, clinical trials, the removal of her ovaries and uterus and daily hormone therapy, the culmination of which finally rendered her cancer-free.
At the five-year mark, she learned about Handful from a neighbor and finally found the answer to a five-year search for a bra that would fit her breastless form. Realizing that there were other modern, active, flat and fabulous survivors who would benefit from the Handful Bra, Goldberg went to work managing survivor relations.
Handful was founded by Jennifer Ferguson, a group fitness instructor and mother of two young kids. Ferguson launched Handful because she could not find a bra that could keep up with her active and energetic lifestyle. The Handful mission is to promote and enhance women’s self-esteem, while inspiring them to live out their fullest potential, regardless of what curveballs life throws their way. Over the last 10 years, Ferguson has transformed her dream of a better sports bra into a company with a flourishing product line (including tops and capri pants) that has attracted an increasing group of females who share a passion for helping women everywhere lead lives that exceed expectations.
From marathoners to CrossFit athletes to yogis, Handful products are praised by so many that the company has a team of “AmBADASSadors” who have inspiring and tear-jerking stories to share.
A fighter herself, Ferguson's path was not just sunshine and rainbows. “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart,” she says. “While running Handful, I have experienced an unexpected divorce, single motherhood, and luckily, a second-chance marriage to the love of my life, Erick Maihack.” Jennifer explains how the network of women around her have been a positive force not just for support, but also as a team of women passionately fighting against challenges from breast cancer to sport injuries to running a business.
It’s been 10 years since Cary’s cancer diagnosis. Cary recounts in a personal blog post, “Ten years ago I wondered if I would live to see the kindergarten bus come to get my daughters, who were aged one and four at the time of my unexpected late stage three breast cancer diagnosis. Not only did I get to see kindergarten come and go, but now I have a freshman in high school and another starting junior high, and I'm completely out of the brutal wilderness of active treatment, no longer taking so much as a single prescription drug to stave off cancer's return.” In the post, Cary recounts her experiences about “the trip to hell and back,” and how eye-opening the statistics for breast cancer truly are. She writes, “I have also experienced here at Handful the cruel twist of statistical fate when the one in eight women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime just so happen to be three out of the 24 women who work closest with us."
"Two of our sales reps and none other than our Director of Marketing, working tirelessly every day for a company that supports women with breast cancer…and then they get breast cancer!? It brings home just how prevalent this disease truly is and reminds us all that there will be many more among us who will face this same fate. We are here for you if the time ever comes for your number to be called, and we are counting on you to be there for the women in your circles to make sure you are there to support them because that’s what Handful women do. We support each other, no matter what life throws our way.”
As Director of Survivor Relations, Cary and Handful are proud to offer survivors the following:
Friends with Benefits — Handful is eligible for coverage through insurance if your local mastectomy provider carries us (tell them to carry us!)
Breast Friends Forever — Survivors who want to skip the insurance hassle are eligible for 30% off any full-price pocketed bra.
Flat and Fabulous — Survivors who have lost a breast to cancer and want to use Handful Lights Out™ Pad Sets as prosthetics get them for free with every bra purchased.
Handful donates a percentage of sales to the Young Survival Coalition, a premier organization dedicated to the critical issues unique to young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. It offers resources, connections and outreach so women feel supported, empowered and hopeful.
On a lighter note, Handful isn’t about engineering workout wear that will shave five seconds off your PR, nor is it about creating a lacy number for gettin’ lucky (although if you manage to do either or both because of their product, good for you sister!).
The brand is about making apparel that makes you happy. Happy because it fits perfectly and feels fantastic no matter what you’re doing. Happy because the women who designed them thought of all the details, leaving you with one less thing to worry about. And happy because, by buying a Handful, you buy into a lifetime membership to their sisterhood of sass. This is all in line with their popular tagline, “Flatter, Not Flatten.”
And because it’s Mother’s Day Month, it’s fitting to offer Moms and all women a bra that will make them smile and help them tackle the challenges life brings along the way. Handful is pleased to offer 15% off all orders with code: SWAAY. Help Handful celebrate this special day for women and raise a glass to the ta ta’s. With product names such as “Worth The Monet,” “Lizard of Ahs” and “Chocolate Kisses,” and a “Love Your Shelf” tank – you’ll feel empowered every time you put on their products.
7 Min Read
Amid the mainstream conversation about inclusion and justice in the workplace, otherwise known as #MeToo, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund considered how they can be more inclusive of the women, minority, and LGBTQ entrepreneurial communities.
Their solution? Ask the CEOs they currently fund to promise to hire senior-level employees from diverse backgrounds.
Lightspeed Venture Partners, a venture capital fund that has investments with blockbuster startups such as The Honest Company, Affirm, and HQ Trivia, has asked its portfolio company CEOs to sign a “side letter" affirming their commitment to consider women and other underrepresented groups for senior jobs and new spots on their board of directors.
Can making pledges— or even hiring a C-Suite level employee to manage diversity efforts— really make an impact on the funding gap for multicultural women-led companies?
Many experts say it's going to take systemic change, not letters of intent.
It is well reported that the amount of investment going to multicultural women-led companies is incongruous to the entrepreneurial landscape and the performance of their businesses. Between 2007 and 2016, there was an increase of 2.8 million companies owned by women of color. Nearly eight out of every 10 new women-owned firms launched since 2007 has been started by a woman of color yet, these businesses receive an abysmal 0.2 percent of all funding. Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller, founders of Mented cosmetics, were just the 15th and 16th Black women in history to raise $1M in the fall of 2017.
The multicultural women who do defeat the odds to get funded receive significantly less than male founders. The average startup founded by a Black woman raises only $36,000 in venture funding, while the average failed startup founded by a White man raises $1.3M before going out of business.
The implicit and explicit bias not only impacts individual multicultural female founders, it could be stifling innovation. For example, companies with above-average diversity on their management teams reported innovation revenue as 45 percent of total revenue compared to just 26 percent of total revenue at companies with below-average management diversity. That means nearly half the revenue of companies with more diverse leadership comes from products and services launched in the past three years.
In our economy today, venture capital is responsible for funding the work of our most innovative companies. Venture capital-backed U.S. companies include some of the most innovative companies in the world. In 2013, VC-backed companies account for a 42 percent of the R&D spending by U.S. public companies.
With a wealth of multicultural women entrepreneurs and evidence to support the performance of diverse companies, why does this funding gap persist?
According to Kristin Hull, founder of Oakland-based Nia Impact Capital and Nia Community, many traditional investors consider women or minority-led businesses as a category in their portfolio, like gaming tech or consumer packaged good. Hull, who focuses on building portfolios where financial returns and social impact work hand-in-hand, argues gender and ethnicity are not a business category and investors who dedicate a specific percent of their portfolio to diverse companies are the ones missing out.
“We are doing this backwards," says Hull. “Adding diverse, women-run companies actually de-risks an investment portfolio."
Hull points to research that has found women are more likely to seek outside help when a company is headed for trouble and operate businesses with less debt on average. What's more, a study conducted by First Round Capital concluded that founding teams including a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent.
Ximena Hardstock, a 43-year-old immigrant from Chile experienced this bias first hand before she raised $5.1M for her tech startup. “How do you get an investor to notice you and take you seriously?" says Hardstock. “White men from Harvard have a track record and investors are all looking for entrepreneurs that fit the Zuckerberg mold. But a woman from Chile with an accent who started a technology company? There is no track record for that and this is a problem so many women of color face."
Hardstock came to the U.S. from the suburbs of Santiago when she was just 20-years-old. Alone with no family or connections in the U.S., Hardstock worked as a cleaning lady, a bartender, and a nanny before she began teaching and working in education. “I had a lot of ideas and Chile is still a very conservative country," she says. “Most women become housewives but I wanted to do something different. So, I moved to the U.S."
Hardstock went on to earn a Ph.D. in policy studies, served as vice president of Advocacy for National StudentsFirst and worked as a member of Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty's cabinet. Her experience working in both education and government exposed her to a need to simplify the process of connecting lawmakers with their constituents. As a result, Hardstock founded Phone2Action, a digital advocacy company that enables organizations and individual citizens to connect with policymakers via email, Twitter, Alexa and Facebook using their mobile phones.
Because venture capital and private equity are not necessarily meritocracies, Hardstock initially struggled to get in an audience with the right investors despite her company's growth potential, her experience, and her education. In fact, it wasn't until she won a competition at SXSW in 2015 that she could get an audience with a serious venture capitalist.
While it may seem like symptoms of a bygone era, both Hardstock and Hull say the path to investor relationships is forged in places where many women of diverse backgrounds are not – ivy league organizations, golf courses and late night post-board meeting cocktails attended mostly by White men of means.
The history of venture capital has never been very balanced, according to Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity at Atlassian software development company and co-founder of Sycamore, an organization aiming to fix the VC funding gap for underrepresented founders. “White and Asian men have built the venture system and for generations have been seeking out people like themselves to invest in."
Personal and professional networks are critical for founders to connect with investors, but many multicultural women don't have access to the networks their White peers have. According to a study conducted by PRRI, the average White person has one friend who is Black, Latino, Asian, mixed race, and other races. This common situation makes getting that all important warm introduction to established VCs very challenging for multicultural women founders.
“Is the ecosystem of your network equivalent to your net worth? Absolutely," says Hardstock. “For us, we have to build our own ecosystem and recreate what happens on the golf courses and at the Harvard reunions."
To Hardstock's point, most multicultural women with entrepreneurial aspirations lack that Ivy League network. According to reporting published in The New York Times, Black students make up just nine percent of the freshmen at Ivy League schools but 15 percent of college-age Americans. This gap has been largely unchanged since 1980.
While notable female investors such as Arlan Hamilton, Joanne Wilson, and Kathryn Finney are actively working to close the funding gap for women of color, only seven percent of current senior investing partners at the top 100 venture firms are women. Less than three percent of VC funds have Black and Latinx investment partners. Without an influential network, Hardstock and entrepreneurs like her are left screaming for a seat at the table.
When Black, Latina, and Asian women founders do get in the room with the right investors, they have to work harder to get the investors to relate to their products and services. “Entrepreneurs solve problems they understand," says Blanche. “When multicultural women entrepreneurs present their businesses to a homogenous group of male investors who may not be equipped to understand the idea, they may pass on an amazing business."
Take, for example, the founders of Haute Hijab or LOLA. Founders of both successful startups would have to explain the market for their services to a table occupied mostly by men who may never have considered that Muslim women want more convenient access to fashion and have never considered women might prefer to purchase organic tampons.
This lack of familiarity typically means reduced funding for women and a host of other consequences.
As one recent study pointed out, even the way investors frame questions to women can impact funding. According to the Harvard Business Review, female founders are often asked “prevention-oriented" questions focused on safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance. Male founders, on the other hand, are often asked questions focused on hopes, achievement, advancement, and ideals.
When all of these factors are considered, a side letter may not be enough to begin to close the funding gap.
Both Blanche and Hull say real change can be made by democratizing information and education on impact investing. Both women say educating investors and MBA candidates about impact investing is the best way to overcome current bias.
Blanche's organization, Sycamore, produces a newsletter for new angel investors who want to help close the funding gap while making money in the process. Hull's firm has an internship program for multicultural girls from Oakland to expose them to the worlds of investing, entrepreneurship, business leadership, and financial literacy.
“I'm excited about the changes I see," says Blanche. “I see more firm employing the Rooney Law on an institutional level, an increase in smaller firms looking at underserved communities, and the democratization of institutional funding."
Hull adds that as long as multi-cultural women-led firms continue to show returns and outperform or perform on par with companies founded by White men, the investor community will rethink their portfolio strategies.
This piece was originally published in 2018.