On Tuesday, March 13, some of the most well-regarded venture capitalists on the West Coast will converge in LA to hear pitches from women-led startups. The day is part of a growing series of events that was originally spearheaded by investor Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures and moved forward by Jess Lee of Sequoia Capital, who along with their women friends in venture wanted to work more closely with the far larger — and growing — community of women founders that has begun to form in recent years.
Of course, like all startup investors, they’re also looking for the next big thing among these teams.
The group has already held two “female office hours” type events, one in San Francisco and another in New York. At this mid-March meeting, at the Santa Monica offices of Upfront Ventures, venture capitalists Kara Nortman of Upfront and Eva Ho from Fika Ventures will host the first of its kind for Southern California founders, and they’ll be joined by both Aileen Lee and Jess Lee; Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures; Dana Settle of Greycroft; Emily Melton of DFJ; Rebecca Kaden of Union Square Ventures; Jodi Sherman Jahic of Aligned Partners; Steph Palmeri of Uncork Capital; and, last but not least, Renata Quintini of Lux Capital. (Note: Quintini signed up more recently, so isn’t pictured above.)
We talked with the group yesterday to learn more about the day, which is primarily designed to give female founders a chance to talk one-on-one with the VCs for at least 30 minutes, though networking and broader-based fundraising advice is also a key feature of the program.
Interested parties can apply to attend the event here. Read on for more specifics.
TC: How many founders applied to the past two Female Founders Office Hours events?
Over 800 women signed up for our first two events in SF and New York.
TC: It looks from the agenda like each VC will be meeting with four founders. Is it safe to say the VCs are choosing founders who they could potentially fund?
It’s important to understand that the 1:1 meetings are not pitch meetings. They’re a chance to meet with a senior-level female investor and ask anything you want about fundraising or company building.
To democratize access, we let the founders select the top three VCs they want to meet and describe what they want help with. The VCs review the applications and pick the four founders they want to meet with based on their own personal criteria, which could be fundability, fit or whether we think can help them with their request.
TC: Have there been any tangible outcomes from your past two events that I could mention? Has anyone received funding from a VC who she met with, for example? Maybe someone has found a co-founder or important hire?
It’s too early to say, but we know friendships are forming amongst the female founders and some of them are creating their own mailing lists. Because of that, we created a Facebook group for attendees to stay in touch.
TC: What is expected of the founders? How can they best prepare?
We aim to provide a low-stress, friendly, safe environment for women from all backgrounds to ask all the questions that they want about fundraising or company building. We recognize there are entrepreneurs of all levels, and it’s important that they feel they can be their authentic self and be surrounded by folks who understand their journey. Women receive only 3 percent of venture capital, so we hope to provide an on-ramp for more women to become more familiar with the fundraising process and get a sense of how venture capitalists evaluate potential investments. The only preparation is to be ready to ask us the hard questions, keep an open mind during feedback and be ready to build some meaningful relationships.
TC: Are any non-disclosure agreements signed?
No, NDAs are not expected or required.
TC: Does the networking take place after these 1:1 meetings? How is the day structured?
Networking with other female founders is one of the most important reasons to attend. Being a founder is a lonely job, and it can be even lonelier if you don’t see anyone around you who looks like you. Our goal is to gather as many female founders as possible, put them in a safe space and have them not just get advice from female VCs but from each other.
TC: For those who are wondering, when will the next event in this series take place and where?
We have another event for Series A founders in San Francisco on February 22.
TC: Are you seeing an uptick in female founders in Southern California or has it remained more or less constant?
The LA tech scene continues to demonstrate strong growth and potential, and we are seeing more and more women choosing to start companies here. Eva recently proudly invested in Jessica Chang who founded WeeCare, focused on helping caregivers, educators and entrepreneurs build and operate successful daycare businesses. Kara invested in Skylar Body, a female-led company based in LA by an ex-Honest Company executive. [Editor’s note: TC wrote about the company yesterday.]
With this investment, in fact, Kara’s personal portfolio is 50 percent led by a female CEO, with three of the four CEOs based in LA.
TC: Most of the VCs involved in this event are coming down from the Bay Area. Are the number of women VCs in LA — or lack of them — an issue for local female founders?
While LA’s startup and venture ecosystem is growing fast, there are not nearly as many LA-based venture firms as the Bay Area, and there aren’t yet a enough partner-level women at the firms down here. We’re excited to see that change over time. But we are proud of our community of women investors, and many of them will be participating in the broader event.
The fact that so many VCs are interested in flying down here is a testament to the level of belief in the LA market. We also wanted to make sure our event included women who could lead rounds at various stages from seed to growth.