“Out of every ten investors that you’ve pitched, how many of them were female?”
When we polled the female founders of Batch 26, the answers ranged from only one out of 10 to upwards of seven out of ten. For those that had over half of their pitches with female investors, they each cited having to actively seek out female investors in order to keep the number high.
We are proud to have 30% of Batch 26 with at least one female founder. We sat down with the founders of Batch 26 to chat about their startups and their experience fundraising as a female founder.
Almost everyone has experienced the pain of sleeping on a bad pillow. A good night of sleep is exactly what Pluto founder, Susana Saeliu, was looking for when she started Pluto. Pluto creates hybrid-designed pillows personalized and custom-built to your body stats, how you sleep, and what you like.
When we asked her about her experience fundraising, she mentioned that investors seemed to ask her more “conservative questions” regarding things like budget and runway compared to her male counterparts. Despite these minor challenges, Susana doesn’t let any bias slow her growth to becoming the next big thing in getting a good night’s rest.
“Being a female entrepreneur is AWESOME. Your business will propel you to grow like you’ve never grown before. For me, Pluto has been my personal growth engine… There’s no better time than now to be a female entrepreneur.”
Silk & Sonder
Finding mental health and wellness solutions can feel daunting. As founder Meha Agrawal knows, “therapy was intimidating, coaching was expensive, meditation was boring, and self-help books lacked accountability.” It wasn’t until she tried journaling that she set out to create Silk & Sonder, an approachable, personalized, and authentic experience that leveraged pen to paper alongside peer-to-peer support.
When talking about the future generation of female entrepreneurs, Meha has been quick to encourage women to practice the same kind of self-care and reflection her company embodies. She hopes female founders can get to a place where they “can overcome self-doubt, fear, and imposter syndrome and build businesses on our terms.”
When talking about her experience pitching as a woman, “I think I get more attention when I pitch on stage because it’s so uncommon to see a female CEO of a hardware startup.” For Shturma, she has been acutely aware of the lack of representation and hopes to use her voice to be an example of a female founder in the industry.
For many companies, customer acquisition and retention is all about deciphering your existing data. Madonna Ononobi, Co-Founder and COO of Connected Analytics, found herself struggling to analyze her customer data when running her previous business. When she asked around, she realized that this issue was one of the main reasons businesses in Africa were shutting down. From that pain-point came Nigerian-based Connected Analytics, a company on a mission to help businesses get useful insights into customer behaviors, sales patterns and trends.
As a female co-founder, there have been many times that Madonna was the only woman in the investor meeting. That said, she is hopeful for a future with more female investors and encourages future female founders that “you will have to be the hardest worker in every room but know this, you are not alone. Look for a support system/mentor and take it one day at a time.
When a government official confided in Elle and Ellory that he used Pinterest to search for options to replace their $1B seawall, they realized that “the primary reason $200B of taxpayer money is wasted each year is that local government officials, just like anyone else, require social proof before making a decision to build or buy something new.” As such, they founded The Atlas, a platform connecting city officials so they can build and buy better stuff more quickly…all without ever selling to cities.
Elle and Ellory are a powerful duo. In addition to being passionate leaders of their startup, they each went through the 500 Startups accelerator with little ones at home. As mothers and startup founders, they found that having young children at home forced “us to act with precision and decisiveness in all aspects of our business, including fundraising – you can bet there is no wasted time & no wasted meetings!”
As Lily Shen was starting to think about raising a child in San Francisco, she grew worried about how her child would grow up in the city’s increasingly visible trash problem on the streets. It was this worry that drove her to want to create a better environment for future generations to grow up in. As a potential solution, she founded Trash Warrior, and on-demand waste management company.
While Shen recognizes that every experience is different, she personally feels the fundraising experience has been different for her as a woman. “So far it has been harder to raise money as a female founder. I’ve only talked to two female investors out of the maybe hundred I have reached out to.” For future female founders, she advises women to align their personal and professional goals. Shen understood that she would need to dedicate a couple of years to her business and took the time to plan out what sacrifices that would entail for her and her husband. She’s ultimately grateful that she was intentional about these decisions so she could focus on her startup.
For many of the startups in our flagship accelerator, we often come in as one of the first institutional investors. Being led by a majority-female executive team, we are also often the first female-led VC firm to invest in a particular startup. As such, we try to increase diversity by actively seeking out some of the most incredible, innovative female founders. In 2019, we were one of the first major venture capital firms to reach gender parity and we want to further increase our investment in women as time goes on.
For those interested in hearing these startups present, tune in for 500’s Digital Demo Day on March 26th.
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