How we actually fund female entrepreneurs

I had an fascinating expertise throughout our current fundraise when a male VC pal remarked that our group ought to think about altering the title of the fund. “Your returns are nice,” he stated, “however funding solely women-led firms is a tough promote to institutional traders.”

His remark encapsulated precisely what continues to be probably the most important hurdle for female entrepreneurs immediately. Many traders view female-founded firms as “affect investments,” versus a chance to generate alpha returns—or extra returns earned on an funding above the benchmark return—inside an asset class that has been traditionally under-appreciated.

Over the previous 12 months, we’ve seen unimaginable momentum from a various cohort of growth-stage female-founded firms for the primary time in historical past. This February, 31-year-old Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd took her firm public and develop into the twenty second lady ever to take action. She created a special function mannequin of success in shiny yellow, holding her one-year-old son as she rang the NASDAQ bell. In Could, FIGS grew to become the primary firm to go public led by two female co-founders within the healthcare attire house. A month later, in June, Anne Wojcicki led genetic testing firm 23&Me’s public providing that valued the corporate at $3.5 billion. Simply this August, Hey Sunshine, a female-founded media firm constructing content material particularly for female audiences, was acquired for an estimated $900 million, and Maven Clinic, the most important digital clinic for womens’ and household care was valued at $1B. These firms differ by sector, founder expertise, and focus, and exhibit that we’re on the cusp of an actual inflection level. The chance is obvious that there’s actual cash to be made investing in ladies, but traders themselves haven’t caught up.


Regardless of these examples of success, we proceed to see ladies face lots of the identical challenges with regards to actually elevate capital. Ladies-led startups acquired simply 2.3% of VC funding in 2020. To place that in absolute phrases, that 2.3% breaks all the way down to roughly $3.7 billion going in direction of ladies, versus the $160 billion that male founders obtain. In immediately’s day and age, that is archaic. We all know range issues, and that various views generate extra favorable outcomes. And whereas organizations have spoken fairly loudly about their commitments to inclusivity, the {dollars} haven’t been put to work.

However as traders drag their toes, the chance is simply growing. The dial has moved within the final 10 years, with the variety of female entrepreneurs within the U.S. climbing more than 30% since 2007. So although strides are being made towards gender equality within the funding house, the bigger market isn’t transferring quick sufficient. We have to preserve the momentum transferring ahead throughout the broader ecosystem to see important, long-term, sustainable progress.

Over the past eight years, Female Founders Fund has raised greater than $90 million to spend money on female-led companies. This July, we closed our third fund after elevating $57 million. We created what we think about to be the most important fund for seed capital particularly for female founders, with the help of top-tier institutional traders. Reflecting again to our first fundraising course of in 2012, consisting of 700 conferences to lift a $5.85-million fund, what strikes me most in hindsight is that lots of the conversations we had then with institutional traders haven’t modified immediately. The questions proceed to be round whether or not our investments focus solely on vogue or magnificence, how we steadiness our skilled and private lives, and whether or not we get sufficient “deal stream,” in different phrases whether or not there are even sufficient female-founded firms for us to spend money on.

The leaps and bounds we’ve seen throughout our portfolio and the broader ecosystem, nevertheless, show that momentum is already there. I’ve by no means been extra bullish on the longer term. My colleagues and I usually talk about options and the way we could make them extra turnkey for these at each step of the funding ladder.

One apparent resolution is to contain extra ladies—and extra BIPOC ladies, particularly—all through the decision-making course of. This will not merely require pulling up extra seats on the conventional desk, however constructing our personal, as was the case with Female Founders Fund. When female VCs do name the pictures, research exhibits they’re twice as more likely to spend money on female founding groups. With increasingly more female traders hanging out on their very own, we’re seeing a brand new guard of VCs who acknowledge and respect that range of thought must be instilled of their values from the get-go.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that solely 12% of decision-makers at VC companies are ladies, and as of 2020, many companies nonetheless don’t have a single female accomplice. That’s altering. In spite of everything, the market is lacking out on a chance that’s not solely thrilling however objectively worthwhile, too.

At this time, ladies are constructing modern firms throughout a wide range of sectors. Healthcare, for instance, has many new market leaders led by female entrepreneurs, like Maven Clinic, Tia, Everlywell, and Kindbody. These firms are reaching hundreds of thousands of customers, with services placing their customers first. Final December, after a $175 million Collection D fundraise, at-home health-testing firm Everlywell reached a $1.3 billion valuation, and this Could, digital well being firm Ro acquired ladies’s well being startup Fashionable Fertility for $225 million. Healthcare is only one trade the place female founders are breaking obstacles and constructing the modern firms of the longer term.


The success of the healthcare sector demonstrates that ladies aren’t simply affect investments. However at Female Founders Fund, we know their singular success isn’t sufficient. We’re ecosystem builders, and we’re cognizant that our ecosystem isn’t gaining floor as shortly as it may possibly, and will.

There’s already a robust domino impact at play. With extra female-led swimming pools of capital taking off all around the nation, ladies are steadily accruing extra capital and investing in different ladies with it, which has been extremely thrilling to witness.

To maneuver ahead and proceed the momentum, we want the funding neighborhood to acknowledge we have work to do and prioritize change from inside. Listed below are three tangible methods the funding neighborhood can maintain long-term change:

It’s 2021. Your portfolio needs to be various

Traders can’t preserve working the identical manner and anticipate totally different outcomes. If you wish to help extra female founders, it’s a must to look at all the pieces out of your sourcing, to your group, and the inducement behind reaching these objectives. Make the intention to entry extra various women-founded firms, in addition to a concrete plan to pursue it clear to everybody in your group.

Use your privilege to help inclusivity from inside

Everybody who’s directing capital, whether or not as an institutional investor or as a enterprise capitalist, has alternatives to help the recruiting and promotion of various groups. Make {that a} precedence systematically throughout your investments and over time. Measure who delivers, and reward their success. Your group needs to be a mirrored image of your values and dedication to range throughout all totally different areas, together with gender, race, and sexual identification.

Maintain your self accountable and embody range as a hit KPI 12 months over 12 months

Set objectives, and publish your outcomes towards these objectives. Use this as a reminder to usually overview your pipeline of investments and the place you might want to make adjustments and enhancements towards this KPI. Share these outcomes publicly and encourage your friends to do the identical so this turns into an trade commonplace.

Our ecosystem has a protracted solution to go earlier than we attain the equality for which generations of activists have fought, however progress is progress, and there’s motive to have fun alongside the best way.

Anu Duggal is a founding accomplice of the Female Founders Fund.