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."
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."