Last month, the LaunchPad at UT Austin teamed up with the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (WEL Institute) for a workshop called Fundraising for Female Founders. By demystifying concepts such as venture capital, angel investor, bootstrapping, non-profit development, and crowdfunding, the goal was for students to leave feeling better educated about startup finances and more confident in their exploration of entrepreneurship. Seventy-five students, the majority of whom reported that they were in the early stage of their entrepreneurial journey, heard from seven panelists who shared their stories on starting a company, how they found the necessary resources to succeed, and why supporting fellow female entrepreneurs is invaluable.
The network of venture capital was historically constructed by affluent white men for other affluent white men — creating barriers for women who want access into these networks. According to a 2019 Crunchbase study, the amount of female founders fundraising at the venture capital level is barely 3%. And according to the Harvard Business Review, black founders receive less than 1% of venture capital.
Thankfully, there has been a growing rise in organizations focused on democratizing access to financial capital for female entrepreneurs and dismantling these historical barriers, such as Women@Austin’s Beam Angel Network. “Beam is designed to help women at their early stages of fundraising,” stated Jessica Gaffney, CEO & Executive Director of Women@Austin, an organization that helps advance female entrepreneurs who are looking to scale their company. Without capital, there is less innovation, flexibility, and growth among female entrepreneurs. Angel investing supports entrepreneurs in the beginning stages of fundraising, with the intent to accelerate them into the pool of entrepreneurs who are ready to compete for larger investments.
How do women compete in a space that is historically designed for men to succeed? “Think big” is Kerry Rupp’s advice. “There is an unfortunate discrepancy between how men pitch themselves and how women do,” shared Kerry Rupp of True Wealth Ventures. “Launching a business is more vision-focused for men,” Gaffney added.” So as a woman, you need to be empowered enough to deliver your message no matter what you are asked.” Female founders should step into the fullness of who they are, embrace the value they provide, and go for it.
In order for startups to successfully seek out funding opportunities, they must clearly understand the funding landscape. Tina Dai of Silverton Partners explained that “any startup should think critically before they go after venture capital because it can be a risky type of investing. Suppose you take venture capital as a startup or new business. In that case, you need to align to that venture capital’s business model and make a high return on investment to deliver back to investors.” If this sounds intimidating, venture capital isn’t the only funding option. For businesses in earlier stages, Shauntavia Ward of EleMINT Skin recommended that attendees should familiarize themselves with the Austin startup scene, attend information sessions to network, and also consider crowdfunding. Crowdfunding solicits small amounts of money from a large number of individuals, making it a popular method for early stage startups.
The ultimate goal of the Fundraising for Female Founders event was to encourage women to empower women. “The panelists were each so impressive. I love this female empowerment and I am proud of [UT] for prioritizing this,” Samantha Lustberg (’21) reflected. Now more than ever, women are finding their strength and chasing their entrepreneurial dreams. The Kendra Scott WEL Institute was created to equip young female leaders and entrepreneurs with the confidence, networks, and knowledge required to succeed. While the landscape is still heavily male-dominated, it is essential to understand what tools and resources are available to compete. As Rachel Sanchez-Madhur, Senior Vice President of Core Experience explained, “Women are uniquely capable of solving other women’s problems. I think putting money in women’s pockets is a way to empower them and, in turn, improve the lives of all of us.”