Capital W convenes over female funding gap


BOSTON—Has the state of getting female founders funded gone backwards? Capital W founder Sheryl Marshall said as much at the annual female-focused venture summit at District Hall last week.

“In prior administrations, there was an emphasis on advancing women at all different levels. We are going backwards,” she told FoundersWire before the daylong gathering of pitches, panels, awards and networking. “Before, it might have been that firms might have been concerned to invest in women, but now I think, who cares?”

Thus, she said, the need for Capital W and other initiatives like it is greater than ever.

Marshall, concerned that the current political environment puts hard-won gains for women at risk, said the goal of the conference is very clear: “Getting women funded! Getting their companies funded. That’s it. That’s all we care about.”

Investment in female entrepreneurs continues to show gender-based disparity, according to 2016 data: $1.5 billion in venture capital funding compared with nearly $60 billion in male investment. A Harvard Business Review article, referenced by several speakers, served as a hot topic for part of the day. Research based on private conversations between venture capitalists in Sweden shed light on the way gender plays a role when making funding decisions. Women founders were perceived as untrustworthy, inexperienced and lacking credibility while men with comparable experience were seen as the exact opposite.

Babson College researcher Lakshmi Balachandra reflected on the media’s representation of entrepreneurs as exclusively white men, and joked about how women are only featured in special editions of tech publications.

But, she said, “women, once funded, are more likely to raise additional venture capital funds and more money on subsequent rounds, and had better rates of liquidity than men.” She also pointed to numbers that female entrepreneurship is on the rise worldwide, as proof that women are having a profound impact on their communities investing in education, employment, and supporting other businesses.

Inspired by the results of Babson College’s Diana Project, which showed a deep divide in funding companies founded by men versus women, Capital W provides awareness and education around these issues in Boston. Throughout the day, female founders were selected to pitch their businesses, including CozyKin CEO Tatyana Gubin; Novopyxis’ Madhavi Gavini; OWL Life Technologies founder Suzanne Mitchell; Evermind’s Claudia Zayfert; FutureFuel CEO Laurel Taylor; Unruly Studios Bryanne Leeming; Teenlife founder Marie Schwartz; Green Pinata’s Shiva Kashalkar; WatchRX’s Jayanthi Narasimhan; Folia Health CEO Nell Meosky Luo; Nix’s Meredith Unger and Gentreo founder Julie Fry.

They received feedback from business leaders and investors including such local luminaries as Yumin Choi from Bain Capital Ventures; Jason Rhodes, Atlas Ventures; Liam Donohue with .406 Ventures; Coppelia Marincovic, Solvay Ventures. Omar Simmons of Exaltare Capital; Nilanjana Bhowmik from Converge and Mike Troiano of G20 Ventures joined in as well. Panel moderators David Chang and Jodi Goldstein led the discussions.

One of the great surprises of the day was the Ada Lovelace Award presentation, given to the no. 1 investor in women-led companies for the year. Last year’s winner always presents the award to this year’s winner, a secret Marshall wouldn’t relinquish until Zaffre Investments Managing Director Leah O’Donnell stepped up to deliver the prize to the new winner. “You did it again,” Marshall said to a shocked O’Donnell amid a laughing crowd. “You’re giving yourself the award.”

Lisa Rometty, vice president of global markets at IBM Watson Health, addressed the role women must take in their own success. “There’s responsibility on your end. . . to self-reflect,” she said, acknowledging the courage and boldness needed to succeed in a startup.

“Culture is the most important thing to focus on, and I would tell you that the secret sauce of a healthy, strong culture is the embracing of diversity. Not only gender diversity, but cultural diversity, diversity of experience, diversity of opinion,” she said.

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