It’s widely known that the technology startup scene is dominated by male founders and investors. But if for some reason you doubt that, consider that in 2017 just 17 percent of companies had a female founder, a number that hasn’t changed in five years, according to Crunchbase. Companies with at least one woman founder raised just 8 percent of late stage money in 2016. The numbers don’t lie, and a group of women venture capitalists decided to do something about it when they formed FemaleFounder.org last November.
The group consists of prominent female investors in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles who are tired of the status quo and want to encourage more women to start companies. Katie Rae, who is Managing Director at The Engine, a $200 million venture fund in Cambridge, Massachusetts affiliated with MIT, says the events of last year around the #MeToo movement really put the idea in motion.
“Our idea is simple: to connect female founders and investors together and create a strong community. Over and over again, I have seen when founders are part of a tight community of people willing to help each other, incredible things happen,” Rae wrote in a Medium post announcing the formation of the group.
To help achieve this goal, the group has decided to hold “office hours” with other women interested in launching a company, just a place to chat and begin establishing relationships, a first step towards building a network of entrepreneurs and investors.
“We have chosen a bunch of different activities to insight change. One of them is easy — we are going to hold office hours just for female founders and VCs and get to know each other,” Rae told TechCrunch. She stressed that these wouldn’t be pitch sessions, but a time for the entrepreneurs to get to know women investors and build a community.
She said that up until now, there hasn’t been a critical mass of women in venture capital and that women were often working solo isolated inside VC firms. “The sad fact is women VCs control very few of the dollars. When they do, they are often the only female partner. When you are only female VC, it’s [even] harder to back women founders. You have to stand up with partners and you have to explain why you should back them,” she said.
She stressed this wasn’t just a woman’s movement though and she has spoken to lots of male allies who are asking how they can help. “Some male VCs carve time in their calendars to only meet female founders and broaden their understanding. All of these small steps [help] create change,” she said.
She says that’s why it requires looking at the total system. “How do you get limited partners involved? How do you get more capital for women VCs? How do you get more exposure and meeting more deeply?” Rae says that her world view is fairly simple: “You focus on where you have the power to change things. My experience has been when you lead positively you attract allies naturally and many are men,” she said.
As more women found firms and become key members as Rae herself is at The Engine, she says that this has the potential to become self-perpetuating. Women VCs back women founders, they build companies, they sell companies, they gain more capital and they back more women founders.
The first networking event is actually today at The Engine’s offices with up to 40 women entrepreneurs meeting with Boston members of FemaleFounders over breakfast. After breakfast, there will be some remarks, then the group breaks into assigned one-on-one sessions between entrepreneurs and investors. Finally, the larger group will reconvene for networking time.
She believes this is just the starting point, and they hope to expand this kind of outreach across the country and build a system that is more welcoming and supportive of startups led by women. These meetings, which she hopes will happen once a month, are just one way to do that.