This week I went to a Girls Raising event in Toronto. The group’s premise is: if companies which include female founders are often more successful than less diverse companies, let’s support companies that include women founders, and give them an opportunity to hone their message and receive effective feedback.
Three female founders presented their companies (Marie Chevrier – The Sampler App, Anna Hu – Brizi, Ghazaleh Etezal – Vacantful) to a panel consisting of other founders, advisors and people in the VC community (Jennifer Reynolds, John Ruffolo, Mandy Gilbert and April Dunford). Additionally, there was an opportunity for everyone to network with like-minded attendees.
I usually shy away from things that are affirmative-action orientated. Maybe it’s a bit of a denial on my part that I have a need for this or can contribute. I’ve always tried to focus on the job at hand, the people I am working with, and the achievements we are trying to accomplish. I try to hold an attitude that looks past issues related to gender, race and culture and therefore often see it mirrored back to me (or I move on). (See my blog post on Why women in technology should mentor men as well as other women). I’m not saying women shouldn’t support women, just don’t do that exclusively or always have that be your driver.
Having this attitude has worked for me. True, I have been bruised more than once working in the male dominated world of Tech. I’ve had to prove-my-worth more than once or twice, while it was taken for granted for my male peers. But having been challenged to do so and succeeded, I have actually found this as a way to gain ongoing credibility and cement relationships. Anyway, all this is an aside to the event.
I did find this event a little bit different because they are trying to tackle a specific issue. How to support women founders in their efforts to raise capital. In the Tech VC world the investors are usually male and only 13% of companies receiving capital funding have female founders. Yet the companies that include female founders have higher success rates. The key is actually to have diversity – the all-inclusive attitude I was talking about earlier.
I believe women are lucky to have this type of event available to them. Actually, it is the feminine characteristic to show your vulnerability before you are “ready”, that helps women be innovative. They seek out feedback and are able to adapt. Isn’t that the premise that agile development is based on! This type of event is a great opportunity to practice your pitch and receive real world advice. As well, it’s a great learning opportunity for the attendees.
The discussion with the panel was highly interactive. In addition to offering advice, the experts asked questions that drew out clarifications from the presenters, and a dialogue happened. The feedback was focused on the business, not the women themselves. So it was an evening of discussing new businesses that happened to have women founders. Not the reverse
I thought the pitch of The Sampler App was the most business-ready; because in addition to talking about the business idea, Marie also talked about specific revenue figures, the amount of capital they are looking for and what they wanted to do with it. They have already received some seed money, so possibly she has already had to hone their spiel.
Brizi had the sexiest Tech business idea, and therefore the presentation focused more on the “Idea” than on the business around the idea. They have created a “intelligent blimp” that can fly around events in a guided path, taking pictures of the crowd that can be used in social-media campaigns. There was a great dialogue about possible customer segments and how they should package their offering. Which I believe was great feedback that will help them move forward.
Vacantful is an online service that connects businesses looking for short term leases with empty spaces available to rent for short terms. Ghazaleh sounded like she knows her business well, has spent a fair amount of time and effort in the business, and is at a point where funding would help her scale. It’s interesting because it’s a model with two different customer segments that are connected through the business offering. One question was which of these segments is easier to reach and which was harder. Interestingly enough the people looking for space are looking for this opportunity, and the business sell is to entice owners of vacant spaces to make them available for short term. Just talking about it was interesting to listen to, because it was a lesson in knowing your customers.
I really enjoyed attending and I gained some specific take-aways for my own business efforts.
Good luck ladies with your ventures. I wish you great success.