I'm a change-maker. There is a point in every change-maker's life where she decides that she's going to stop complaining about the current state of affairs and do something about it. I was fed up hearing stat after stat about the gap in access to capital for women-led businesses and decided to do something about it. Based on my passion, we were able to attract investors, a team, capital providers, and supporters to access $500 Million in financing for women-led ventures through EnrichHER.
EnrichHER is a tech-enabled platform that provides training, resources, and business financing to help women-led businesses grow. In 2019, we launched the business financing platform component so that we could fund traditional women-led companies such as consumer products like dog treats, health and beauty businesses such as salons, and service businesses such as tax accounting. Within the first few months after launch, EnrichHER deployed it's first $3 million in financing and was ready to scale up to $50 million+ in 2020.
But, before we launched, we had to get capital providers on board to finance women-led business. Our initial goal was to access $10 Million for our first set of companies; we were ecstatic that we created pathways to so many more.
Our strategy included meeting with executive-level teams at tech-enabled business financing platforms to see if they wanted to work with us. They had the data already that corroborated that women pose a lower loss risk as compared to our male counterparts. As such, we met with several tech-enabled companies, shared our statistics, mission, and data, and they were happy to work with us.
This strategy took a while to implement because EnrichHER's financing platform was pre-launch. This means that we didn't have data, but what we did have was passion, purpose, and validity in the market. We were able to use what we did have to secure meetings, secure partnerships, and secure capital that we needed to grow.
But we didn't stop there. Our platform is regulated by the SEC/FINRA to allow retail investors to lend directly to women-led ventures on our platform. We wanted a qualified everyday person to be able to decide if a business is worthy of financing. Mainly by doing this, we would open up small business investing to an often-overlooked set of consumers. By doing this, communities could decide which businesses they could support, and those discriminated by the existing financing ecosystem would have a new way to access capital.
It wasn't easy accomplishing this because not only is it strategically difficult, it's hard to find people who are willing to open up their mind to working with businesses that are not run by white founders. In my article, How Discrimination in Venture Capital Led me to Techstars, I share how when I presented myself to white male decision-makers, they would automatically assume I wasn't qualified. I would start off each meeting telling them about my Ph.D. in Computer Engineering and Finance, that I was the youngest Director at a consulting firm managing a staff of 50 by the age of 27, and that I had won numerous awards ranging from 40 under 40 to the Top Disruptors in Tech. However, more often than not, I was told that I needed the help of someone else to enact my vision, maybe a white male who just finished his undergraduate degree or someone more technical or one of their friends.
So, although people acknowledge that change is needed, people still believe that the only people who can create change are those who are similar to the people who created the problem. I accepted that this is true even if people are mission-aligned. As such, I recognized that my path wouldn't look like anyone else and decided to use my superpowers to access the capital that we needed to get money into the hands of women in business.
One of my superpowers is being loud online.
With my 72,000 followers, I created a campaign to attract supporters of women-led businesses to advocate for our mission. By doing that, we were able to attract qualified women-led ventures, investors, supporters and media opportunities.
Another one of my superpowers is that I love public speaking.
I love being on stage and sharing my passion with others. As such, I started traveling around the country speaking at events and pitching in pitch competitions to drum up support for EnrichHER. We received an investor and/or strategic partner from 100% of my speaking engagements.
Also, you'd don't obtain a Ph.D. in Engineering or Finance you don't know how to impress people with your schoolwork. As such, I used my straight-A superpowers to create compelling decks, materials, and email responses so that I had the best shot possible with people who made decisions based on the quality of materials.
Another superpower that I have is that I'm generally an excellent candidate for recognition through awards. With my history of awards, my intelligence, my educational background, and my likeness, I'm typically overqualified for external recognition. As such, for organizations that have a scoring rubric that matches what I'm about, I created a strategy to collect as many awards as possible. This additional validation opened up doors to potential strategic partnerships and capital providers.
All that I know is that I've been underestimated my entire life and no award, recognition, salary achievement, or external factor has changed how the masses will treat a black woman in FinTech. However, I decided to go around the masses and find my own advocates so that I could achieve my goals without them. This is the way that I've made everything in life, and this is the way I will continue to win.
For other entrepreneurs, while it's good to learn about the journey of others on their paths to success, it's also important to remember that your way may or may not resemble that of anyone else. What this means is that it's best to look inwards and use your superpowers to get what you want.
- How Raising A $2M+ Seed Round Really, Actually Went - Swaay ›
- Dear VCs: Making Pledges Or Hiring Diversity Officers Won't Close ... ›
- 9 Honest Fundraising Questions With Kabbage Co-Founder ... ›
- How to Fundraise Without Becoming a Person You Hate - Swaay ›
- This Crowdfunding Platform is Devoted to Getting Female Start-Ups ... ›
- How I Landed $750K in Seed Funding While Pregnant - Swaay ›
- Fundraising While Female: Five Founders Respond To Sexism ... ›
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."