5 Signs Of Progress For Women Raising VC Funding

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It has been almost a decade since I stepped into the venture capital fundraising game. In 2011, I founded beauty big data company Poshly Inc. (now called Lucky Analytics), and after two years of bootstrapping, successfully raised $3.75 million from investors from 2014 to 2016. Those funds were used to build out our team, launch our unique data platform, and scale our business to profitability.

While I could have gone for more funding to further accelerate the business, I didn’t. Why did I avoid fundraising after 2016? Honestly, I was jaded by the double standards for men and women in VC fundraising.

It was extremely demoralizing seeing founders with half-baked slide decks land millions in funding while I was so often told that my company was “too early” despite having meaningful users and revenue. As an entrepreneur, it is critical to know how best to spend your time and efforts, and with so much more time expended and uncertainty in the process as a female founder raising funding, my time and efforts were better spent working directly with customers and growing our business through reinvesting profits.

When I started my career as an entrepreneur, I knew the statistics about how few women get funding, but I was naive about how systemic these disparities are. I thought, like so many entrepreneurs, that hard work, determination and grit would help me overcome obstacles. 

Later, I learned that many challenges are fundamentally rigged against women; for example, Babson College’s Diana Report, published in 2014, found that “businesses with all-male teams were more than four times as likely to receive VC funding compared to teams with at least one woman.”

I also never thought that these challenges would be so pervasive even one decade later. I truly thought we were on the cusp of a revolutionary upswing in women getting VC funding for their businesses. Instead, despite a boom in venture capital funding overall, last year there was even less VC funding going to female-founded companies than in prior years — just 2.4 percent, according to Crunchbase data.

Nevertheless, as so many entrepreneurs know, when you get an idea that you just can’t shake, you need to get back in the game. For the past year, I have been working to launch ELLEMENT, a digital health company focused on a revolutionary, patent-pending supplements protocol that is personalized by stage and symptom for women to optimize pregnancy and birth outcomes.

In pitching ELLEMENT to venture capital funds over the past few months, there are five key themes that have given me substantive hope that we will finally start to see positive momentum for female founders in the next decade:

  1. There are significantly more women throughout the ecosystem: While there is still so much progress that needs to be made with female partners at venture capital firms — women still only comprise 10 percent of VC at the partner level — I have interacted with so many more women at all levels of the VC firm: associates, VPs, advisers, etc. Having more women at the firms seems to have broader systemic implications for building an inclusive culture. Being a woman in the room no longer feels like an anomaly, and having more diversity throughout the firm has fostered a more welcoming environment for female founders, whose ideas are more likely to be judged on their own merits rather than through a subconsciously biased lens of the entrepreneur’s gender.
  1. People are giving much more direct feedback: There has been a marked difference in my fundraising experience this time around in the quality of feedback that VCs are providing. Whereas the rote response used to be “you’re just a bit too early for us,” it is a welcome change when investors are circling back quickly and directly with their investment interests and intent. It makes me feel more respected as a founder, creating fewer variables to navigate and a more direct link of communication to gauge whether an investor is truly interested to fund.
  1. There are so many accelerators: Startup accelerators are everywhere and actively courting diverse teams. It has been exciting to see how many accelerators are being cultivated with a specific focus, like health care, which can bring in subject matter experts within a field with a more community-based environment as a launchpad. As more women get into the early pipeline for company-building and receive guidance, support and actual cash in the form of angel investments through accelerators, there is more pipeline created for VC-ready companies with female-led teams.
  1. Strategics have more fluency in startups: It has also been exciting to see a massive evolution in the embrace of startup culture from large companies and domain experts. For example, with ELLEMENT, we have been able to rapidly augment our advisory board with doctors and nutritionists because there is more knowledge than ever before of startup values and structure. Even people who have never before been part of a startup now have an understanding of the value of early-stage equity, and large company strategics are more willing to engage in conversations with an early-stage firm to begin the relationship-building process that is meaningful for successful exits. These dynamics create more real-world validation for female-founded businesses, which they may not have had as readily a decade ago.
  1. It is now acceptable, and encouraged, to bring your full self: Ten years ago, like so many female founders, I would consciously concern myself with whether my clothing would be too feminine or in any way distracting for an investor pitch meeting, and I could not fathom the concept of discussing my personal life in any way unless it was directly related to the business. This dynamic has changed dramatically now, in part because there are more women throughout the funding ecosystem. The more inclusive environment has made it okay to discuss kids and career, and there are more female trailblazers who are showing that they can bring their full, feminine, vibrant selves to the company-building process.

These are all such welcome shifts and will enable the next generation of female founders to fully embody their personalities and energies to build ever bigger businesses.

Doreen Bloch is a Forbes 30 Under 30 Founder and CEO of Lucky Analytics and ELLEMENT.

Photos courtesy of Kaitlyn Wiener: www.kaitlynrosephotography.com

  • Originally published March 19, 2021, updated December 23, 2021