Business 08 January 2018
Though still a small sector of greater Silicon Valley, a growing number of venture capital firms have notably taken the initiative to fund female-led companies. These aren't pity investments or social/moral obligations, either — investing in women entrepreneurs makes financial sense.
“There is a perception that investing in women and POC-led/founded/invented companies is an impact investment play; as if somehow these deals are not as quality as traditional Silicon Valley deals and thus, investment is only made to create a better world. I disagree," said Rafferty Jackson, an angel investor who's invested in Ellevest, Poshly, and Goodworld via Astia Angels. “I see these opportunities as undervalued opportunities in which I can deploy my capital. By looking at the deals that Silicon Valley simply cannot sort, there is a ton of opportunity out there to invest and make money."
We reached out to VC firms with one goal: to see which were actually putting their money where their mouth is in terms of funding female-led businesses. (Note that while we see clear movement in angel networks as far as investing in female companies, we opted to focus on VC firms for this article.)
Location: San Francisco
Which female-led companies have you invested in? “We focus on deep-tech companies, and I'm very proud to see 15 percent of our portfolio companies have female founders and co-founders who are extremely technical in multiple disciplines. For example, Ginkgo Bioworks, CapellaBio,
Savioke, and Kindred.ai," said Shelley Zhuang, founder and managing partner.
How much have you invested in each? > $2 M
What do you look for when investing in a female-led company? “The same things I would look for in any company: does the founder deeply understand the problem she is solving, what is the market size, what is the company's unique product/technology, why is it better than the competition, does the business model make sense? We love breakthrough technology companies in AI, AR, robotics, space, data-driven health."
Success Story: Ginkgo Bioworks (“the organism company"), co-founded by Reshma Shett, is now worth over $1 B.
2. 500 Startups
Location: San Francisco
Which female-led companies have you invested in? “Our entire thesis is really driven by investing in underrepresented founders. We believe talent is everywhere, but resources are not. Our collective portfolio is about 25 percent female founders at the moment, and companies with female leadership is closer to 40 percent," said Tanya Soman, a venture partner. Examples include Shearshare, Mejuri, Ellebox, Tradesy, Ipsy, Shippo, and Canva.
How much have you invested in each? $150k/company
What do you look for when investing in a female-led company? “I look for the same things if I were evaluating any other company. I assess the market size, the growth potential of this business in that space, and especially with early-stage companies, I look to see if this is the right team to execute. Female founders are great at building solutions for women. This is often times overlooked by men by nature of the problem. I am particularly interested in retail, beauty, and fashion innovation solutions."
Success story: “Ellebox is a monthly subscription of organic pads, tampons, and goodies. The company was founded by two sisters who have personally experienced the pain of toxic solutions for periods. They are building a company with a strong brand appealing to first entrants in the market: tweens."
Location: San Francisco
Aspect focuses on helping companies bridge the gap between seed investment and late-stage ventures. Notable companies with female leadership they've invested in include Birchbox, Baublebar, Grokker, Nanostring, Stem, The Muse, The Real Real, UrbanSitter, and Vida.
Invested in each: Aspect closed their debut fund at $150 M and opened a second in June 2017 with a goal of $175 M.
Success story: Birchbox was founded in 2010 and is considered a pioneer in the world of “subscription boxes." Subscribers receive a monthly delivery of deluxe beauty and skincare samples, which they can then purchase online as full-sized versions. The company experienced rapid growth early on and boasts over one million subscribers and 4 M total customers.
Location: New York
BBG Ventures focuses solely on women-led technology companies at seed stage. They seek and support “founders who are creating market-defining consumer applications and services that make our lives simpler, better, more delightful. We believe the greatest untapped opportunity for venture capital lies in backing women who are using technology to address common life-challenges and transform daily habits," the website states. Portfolio examples include Glamsquad, rocksbox, Kiwi Crate Inc., Rockets of Awesome, LOLA, Full Harvest, and Spoon University.
Invested in each: Investments range from $100,000 to $250,000.
Success story: Lola takes a modern approach to feminine care by offering 100 percent organic tampon delivery on a monthly basis to subscribers. They're credited with “changing the tampon industry" and giving women more options when it comes to menstrual care.
Location: Boulder, Colorado
Which female-led companies have you invested in? Examples include MALK Organics, 4th & Heart, Birch Benders, Quinn, Caulipower, and Greenspoon
How much have you invested in each? “We typically invest between $1 to $5 M in a particular business," said Abby Oppenheim for BFG.
What do you look for when investing in a female-led company? “We don't think we go out in the market actively looking for female entrepreneurs, but as it happens, much of our portfolio is comprised of female-led businesses. We think this stems from the fact that we view these deals as real partnerships, and when looking for businesses to invest in, we are seeking founders that are humble, kind, driven, and easy to work with. What is great about the food and beverage industry is that there are simply more female leaders than other industries like tech, healthcare, and biotech that traditional skew more male. As far as trends, we are looking for large and growing categories and businesses that have a better-for-you angle."
Success Story: “Caulipower launched only ten months ago, but has already clearly struck a nerve with the American consumer. By taking a lot of the carbs and sugar (and gluten, obviously) out of traditional frozen pizza, it is not only opening the category to consumers who were not able to eat pizza in the past, but also providing a healthier option for folks that love pizza but don't want to feel so guilty about eating it. This easy value proposition has allowed Caulipower to gain access to over 6,000 points of distribution in its first year of business."
Founded: November 2017
Location: Ithaca and Saratoga Springs, New York
Which female-focused companies have you invested in? Chloe Capital is a brand new micro VC fund that's first investment was Mi Padrino, founded by Kim Gamez. “Our thesis is around diversity, innovation and impact. We invest in frontier technologies and diverse, rapidly growing markets that are currently underserved by technology innovation," said Elisa Miller-Out.
How much have you invested? $50 K
What do you look for when investing in a female-driven company? “Our technology focus includes: SaaS, Blockchain, AI, Chatbots, Voice, IoT, Clean Energy Tech, AR and VR. We also invest in a handful of high growth companies from other sectors that have an innovation focus."
Success Story: Here's the story from our accelerator program and our first investment.
7. Crystal Towers Capital
Location: San Francisco
Which female-focused companies have you invested in? Fifteen percent of the companies CTC has invested in have a female CEO, and roughly 30 percent have either a female CEO or at least one female founder. Examples include Tushy, Sweeten, Eligible, Flex, Able Health, Medal, Care Revolutions, Stork Club. “We pursue awesome founders, irrespective of gender. I do think the fact I'm a woman and I make up 50 percent of our fund's partners — relative to less than 10 percent in the general VC world — may have something to do with our relatively high number of female founders. But to his credit, my partner Tikhon Bernstam has always been very gender-blind and non-discriminatory; several of the bigger investments we made in female founders were spearheaded by him," said Arianna Simpson.
How much have you invested in each? In aggregate, over $10 M.
What do you look for when investing in a female-driven company? “Really the same things I look for in male founders: drive, passion, deep domain expertise, founder-market fit, and a certain charisma."
Success Story: “Miki Agrawal, the founder of Tushy, was previously the founder of Thinx, which she grew from zero to tens of millions in revenue. Miki is a force to be reckoned with and makes it her mission to disrupt taboos, be it menstruation or pooping!"
Location: New York
“Women experience greater successes — and fewer failures — than their male counterparts. Yet traditional venture capital does not reflect this. Female Founders Fund was founded to change that," states the FFF website. They're a seed fund that invests solely in businesses with female founders. Their focus is e-commerce, web-enabled products and services, marketplaces, and platforms, and their portfolio includes Rent the Runway, Zola, Ringly, Eloquii, Maven, Rockets of Awesome, WayUp, Winky Lux, and Women.com.
Invested: As of April 2017, FFF's “Fund I portfolio of 25 companies has built over $1B of enterprise value and raised over $400M of venture capital funding. In total, these companies led by female founders employ over 600 people in New York, San Francisco & Los Angeles."
Success story: WayUp connects students and recent college graduates to great jobs. In 2016, they hit the “one million users" milestone, and in less than a year, that number hit 3.5 million.
Location: Los Angeles
Halogen Ventures, founded by Jesse Draper, is an early stage VC fund focused on female-founded consumer technologies. Their portfolio includes BeautyCon, Werk, Clover Letter, Sugarfina, Eloquii, Carbon38, The Flex Company, and Barn and Willow.
Invested: Halogen Ventures has raised over $10 M.
Success story: Werk is an unprecedented job placement model for females in the workplace. “The founders are two moms, who realized that they couldn't continue to work unless they made work more flexible. They offer full-time time job placement options for motivated women who want to keep their foot on the gas [pedal]," Draper told Forbes.
Location: Oakland, California
Which female-focused companies have you invested in? “Over 40 percent of our CEOs have been women. It is not part of our investment criteria, but we go out of our way to ensure that we have a very inclusive deal flow strategy, and then we simply pick the best investment opportunities," said Cindy Padnos. Their portfolio includes Vivant, Wild Pockets, Red Aril (acquired by Hearst Corporation), Allocadia, Jacobi Strategies, Peerlyst, PEX, Modsy, and Xactly Corporation. “Also important to note is that 80 percent of our portfolio companies have diverse founders, and roughly half have one founder that was born outside of the US," she added.
How much have you invested in each? Eight-figure investments across multiple funds into these companies.
What do you look for when investing in a female-led company? “We look for the same attributes in a woman co-founded startup as any other company we consider for investment. We start with people first: is this a team that brings a unique set of skills and experience to address a clear business problem with a demonstrable ROI? Are they passionate leaders who can attract top talent and business partners to support their vision?"
Success Story: “I was launching my own firm in parallel with Shanna launching her first startup, WildPockets, a web-embedded 3D development platform that could be used to build mobile games and for other business applications. We became Shanna's first institutional equity investors from outside of the Pittsburgh region, and helped her gain access to other similar investors. Three years and two rounds of venture financing later the company was acquired by Autodesk. They established a significant base of operation in Pittsburgh as a result."
Location: San Francisco
Forerunner focuses on early-stage ventures in commerce. More that 40 percent of their investment portfolio is made up of businesses founded or co-founded by women, including Birchbox, Draper James, Glossier, Joor, Guildery and PS Dept.
Invested: We were unable to reach Forerunner Ventures for comment, but can report that they have three funds for which they've raised over $215 M.
Success story: Guildery is a platform that brings “mass customization to the $200 B home décor market with robust digital printing technology allowing anyone to create and customize fabric and soft home goods," the website states. It was acquired by Minted in 2016.
12. The JumpFund
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
The JumpFund invests only in female-led ventures in the Southeastern portion of the United States. This location-based focus is the JumpFund's response to the fact that less than six percent of venture capital is directed towards female-led companies in the area compared to the nation's already low 15 percent. Their portfolio includes eDivv, Coursicle, Torch, Rooibee Red Tea, Stony Creek Colors, and Fleetwood Coffee.
Invested: We were unable to reach The JumpFund for comment, but can report that they have invested roughly $5 M to date.
Location: Boulder, Colorado
“MergeLane discovers, accelerates and invests in high-potential startups with at least one woman in leadership," states their website. Their portfolio includes Alchemie, EV Match BallotReady, Hidrate Spark, Mapistry, Parkifi, and Kidizen.
Invested: Since launch, MergeLane has 37 portfolio companies for which they've raised $23.8 M.
14. Renewal Funds
Located: Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada
Which female-led companies have you invested in? Goddess Garden, Sweet Earth Foods, Better Bean, Prana Foods, Farmhouse Culture
How much have you invested in each? $2 to $5 million
What do you look for when investing in a female-driven company? “We seek out environmentally sustainable companies in organics and envirotech that are shifting the needle in terms of how we live on this planet," said Kate Storey.
Success Story: “Sweet Earth is a great example of a sustainable company that can have a profound impact on the environment, while generating a fantastic financial return for all stakeholders. When we met CEO Kelly Swette and President Brian Swette in 2014, they had set out to create delicious products that would make it easy for families to adopt plant-based diets. Kelly and her team systematically built an innovation platform of globally inspired plant-based foods and launched award-winning products across multiple categories into over 10,000 stores. The company was acquired by Nestle USA — the largest food manufacturer in the world — this fall."
15. Rivet Ventures
Location: San Francisco
“We invest in companies in women-led markets where female usage, decision-making, and purchasing are crucial to company growth. We back both male and female founders," the website states. Over 50 percent of the businesses they've invested in have female leadership, including Ritual, Weav, GoldieBlox, and Ice.com.
Invested: They've raised over $50 M since inception.
16. SoGal Ventures
Founded: February 2017
Location: Singapore and New York City
Which female-led companies have you invest in?: “All of our portfolio companies have female co-founders or are focused on the female market," said Pocket Sun. For example: EverlyWell, Function of Beauty, SWAAY, Trustify, Unbound, and HelloAva.
How much have you invested in each? “Our first check is usually $100,000 to $300,000.
What do you look for when investing in a female-driven company? We are interested in tech-enabled companies that are revolutionizing how the next generation lives, works, and stays healthy. We're currently very interested in aging care, frontier tech, and blockchain."
Success Story: “EverlyWell.com is a digital health company that delivered at-home health testing kits to your door, so that you can enjoy affordable, convenient and accurate healthcare at the comfort of your own home. It recently was featured on Shark Tank, and the CEO Julia Cheek walked away with $1 M funding from Lori Greiner, which is one of the biggest deals ever done on Shark Tank!"
17. Valor Ventures
Location: Atlanta, Georgia.
Which female-led companies have you invested in? “We have a unique sourcing model. We benchmark what real founders look like and then make sure we source our investments from a balanced pipeline. It's just like making sure you interview a full spectrum of qualified candidates for any critical opportunity. We know 40% of founders are women or minorities, so we make sure our pipeline reflects reality. Investing in women, or minority-led companies, is a result of our strong sourcing strategy for today's top innovators," said Lisa Calhoun. Examples include MyAgData and Smart Commerce.
What do you look for when investing in a female-driven company? “We look for the same things in all our investments: an early stage software business that's scalable and currently experiencing hypergrowth."
Success Story: “Consider a true pioneer in agtech, Deb Casurella, CEO of MyAgData. After years of working in the ag insurance industry at the highest levels, she realized she could build a mobile ag insurance model that's truly revolutionizing the industry. Hear her testifying to the Senate this summer on the incredible opportunities of mobile ag insurance.
Location: Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles
Which female-led companies have you invested in? “We commit our capital and only invest if there is a woman as part of the senior leadership. Seven out of eight of the companies we've invested in have a female CEO, and in the eighth case there's women in C-Suite," said Edith Dorsen. For example: Vow to be Chic, Newsela, Decorist, Omni Retail Group, EdSurge, Nvoicepay, Proxio, and Ivytalk.
What do you look for when investing? “For us, the first fund was relatively opportunistic. We have been largely focused on Series A companies (generally raised a few million) and are demonstrating revenue traction. It's largely been in consumer internet, enterprise staff, and educational technology."
Success Story: “Nvoicepay is one of our earlier investments. They help companies pay their suppliers electronically and started out focused on the automotive sector. When we looked at the company, we saw great potential for them to expand into other verticals. We were the first institutional investor, and last fall they did a significant P/E round and the company is demonstrating rapid growth."
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3 Min Read
With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.