Recently I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Allyson Kapin and Craig Newmark about the Women Startup Challenge, an initiative of the nonprofit organization, Women Who Tech. The organization works with talented women breaking new ground in technology to transform the world and inspire change.
As I’ve written in the past, hiring women is smart business. And, women also make exceptional entrepreneurs. I believe that women need to continue to rise to the top in all industries to ensure that we have more open, innovative and thriving organizations.
The upcoming Women Startup Challenge Emerging Tech competition features ten of the best early-stage, women-led Emerging Tech startups, focused on Agriculture, Augmented Reality, Biotech, Health, Energy, IoT, Robotics, and Virtual Reality.
Allyson Kapin is the founder of Women Who Tech and has been named one of the Most Influential Women in Tech by Fast Company. She is also the co-founder of Rad Campaign, a web agency that works with nonprofits to fight the world’s toughest problems, ranging from climate change to health care reform.
Craig Newmark, a member of the Advisory team for Women Who Tech, is the founder of craigslist, the web-based platform that has fundamentally changed classified advertising. Craig is also the founder of Craig Newmark Philanthropies, which works to advance people and organizations that are “getting stuff done” in the areas of women in technology, veterans and military families, trustworthy journalism, and voter protection.
On March 6, 2018, the Women Startup Challenge Emerging Tech finalists will pitch their innovative ventures to a panel of tech industry investors on stage at Google, in New York City. The grand prize-winner will be awarded a $50,000 cash grant for her startup. Additional prizes include $280,000 in Google cloud services. Meet the ten women-led startups that are finalists for the sixth cohort.
Melissa: “What inspired you to launch the Women Startup Challenge three years ago?”
Allyson: “We originally created the Women Startup challenge because of the dismal amount of funding available to women-led startups. The latest data shows that less than 2 percent of VC money goes to women-led startups. That number has barely budged in ten years, and we wanted to find a way to shake up this culture and economy that has made it very difficult for women entrepreneurs to access capital.
We’re on a mission to find the best early-stage women-led startups and put capital, mentoring, and resources behind them. I’m happy to report that we’re moving the needle. The startups that have gone through our cohorts have succeeded in collectively raising over $20M.”
Melissa: “And Craig, what inspired you to get involved with the Women Startup Challenge?”
Craig: “One of the first principles that I live by is that I feel that you should treat people like you want to be treated and that means fairness for everyone. You need to give people a break.
I grew up in Jersey, and what people told me is sometimes you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. Craig Newmark Philanthropies supports the Women Startup Challenge so that people take this extra seriously–and that seems to work.”
Melissa: “It seems as though you have both genders supporting the Women Startup Challenge, so it isn’t just women supporting the Women Startup Challenge, but you have men also supporting it.”
Craig: “That’s why that first principle I think is real important. Treating people like you want to be treated is something we all learn as kids and forget–but now I’m in the process of reminding people, particularly my male peers, to practice what they preach.”
Allyson: “To echo what Craig is saying, and one of the reasons we love working with Craig, is he’s been such an ally to us and to the women in tech community. I think that for us to solve these issues, with the lack of diversity and the lack of funding for women in tech we need male allies at the table.”
Melissa: “What is it that prevents women from getting funding?”
Allyson: “What we have found through our own research, and other research that validates ours, is that both unconscious and conscious biases play parts in preventing women from getting funding. The gatekeepers of the investor world are primarily men–white men–and they rely on their own networks for warm leads. Investors need to diversify their networks, and we want to help them do that.
Craig: “In plainer terms: Sometimes people don’t get something good when others present it, and we can be real jerks sometimes. That may be too plain of language for you, but that’s the gist of things. Sometimes we’re short of empathy.”
Melissa: Would you say women present themselves, that is, pitch differently than men do?
Craig: I’ve seen some of the pitches, and the results are good, but I think that has to do with the training that Women Who Tech provides on how to give an effective fundraising pitch. You have very little time to pitch investors. The less time you have, the more focused your presentation has to be, and people respect that.”
Allyson: “I don’t see much difference between men and women pitching. But I do think there are unconscious biases that men and even women investors can have that can impact how the pitch is received. A key part of our program is our emphasis on training and coaching for all of the founders who are raising money for their next round.”
Melissa: “What’s the business case for investing in women-led businesses?”
Craig: “The bottom line is that if you invest in a women-led startup, you’re going to make more money. The research shows that women-led startups have a 35 percent higher return on vestment (ROI.) Investors want a better return on investment, so they should go where the return is better.”
Allyson: “This isn’t about charity. There’s a big business case for investing in women-led and racially diverse startups. If investors want to make billions of dollars, they need to start funding more diverse led startups that have game-changing products. And the time to do that is right now because we’re missing out on major innovation by not funding them.”
Tips For Pitching Your Start-up Business to Investors
- Identify the problem or challenge your product is solving.
- Clearly layout how your product is the solution to the challenges you highlighted.
- Show traction to date and have a clear go-to-market strategy.
- Demonstrate why your team is the one to bring this product to market and generate a huge return on investment.
- Keep the pitch simple, stupid aka the KISS principle. Don’t use insider jargon that investors who aren’t familiar with your product won’t easily understand.
- Know your financials backward and forward
- Highlight what the funding your raising will be used for and how you will use it to scale
- Condense your pitch. You will have only minutes to make your case
- Work with a coach to prep for your investor pitching opportunity
I look forward to seeing continued greatness from Women Who Tech in the future! And if you’re looking to start a business, I offer an impactful coaching program for female entrepreneurs. Contact me.