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The Series A Crunch: Should Female Founders Worry?

seriesacrunch

The startup world is chattering about the increasingly narrow path from angel to VC funding. How will the crunch affect women-led companies?

By Jessica Stillman (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

Whether you respond to them with concerned hand-wringing or something like Darwinian glee, here are the facts.

# Deals 2009 2010 2011 2012 YTD
Seed/Angel 472 770 1,064 1,747
Series A 418 515 703 688


Give about a half second of your attention to these numbers collected from CB Insights by Fortune’s Dan Primack and you’ll notice that while the top row of numbers is growing wildly, the bottom set is only rising moderately.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the implications; lots and lots of startups who got seed funding, aren’t going to be able to close a series A round.

Welcome to the So-Called “Series A Crunch.”

The phenomenon has been much chattered about lately with ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Lyons mocking anyone shedding tears for “incredibly stupid startups that have been raising seed money in Silicon Valley despite the fact that the people running those startups have no experience doing anything, ever,” and PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy offering a long, more measured article on how the crunch will affect various segments of the startup world.

But there’s one segment Lacy doesn’t single out: women entrepreneurs. How will the tight funnel of the Series A crunch affect female startup founders in particular or is this a gender blind phenomenon?

What’s Less Than a Trickle?

While there’s no evidence that this funding bottleneck is in any way particularly affecting women-led startups, existing, fundamental facts about female founders and funding give cause for concern.

Series A crunch or no, there’s ample evidence that precious little VC money goes to female entrepreneurs. Despite a plethora of happy exceptions, according to the Kauffman Foundation, historically only 4% to 9% of venture capital has gone to women entrepreneurs. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor has found women around the world are “more likely to exit because they could not get financing.”

Here on Women 2.0, Natalia Oberti Noguera has reported that “in 2011, only 12% of startups pitching to angels in the U.S. were women-led, according to the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire. Out of that 12%, 26% secured funding.” Taken together these facts point to the fact that the percentage of VC women going to female entrepreneurs already amounted to a trickle before this crunch.

Learn to Brag

Women may head a tiny number of companies that manage to raise series A funding and now that the overall percentage of start-ups that will manage to clear that hurdle looks set to fall, the number of female founders closing deals could become depressingly small. But there is a bright side (if you squint).

As PandoDaily’s Lacy points out: “Great companies will thrive and find cash no matter what goes on in the outside world.” Building great company is, as ever, your surest route to the cash you need to see your business grow, and women are just as able to conceive of and execute great business ideas.

The key, as the Center for Venture Research’s numbers suggests, is actually pursuing, and pitching, them with confidence as the first image that pops into many VCs minds when imagining the founder of their dreams may not be someone in a skirt. Fox’s Small Business Center has rounded up some tips from successful women entrepreneurs and a female VC, while on Women 2.0 VC Stephanie Palmeri offers advice, including “brag to a point where you are comfortably uncomfortable.”

Skip the Party

Also, Lacy adds, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from party rounds where you get a little money from many angels. “The hope was having more firms involved would help with hiring, raising more money, or anything else a first time entrepreneur might need,” she says, but “in reality, no one has much skin in the game. If you are going to have a flood of investors, make sure there’s a clear lead who believes in you and your vision. Otherwise, you’ll have to show massive traction to compete with all the other entrepreneurs who have that kind of advocate in their corners.”

Women 2.0 readers: Are you worried about the “Series A Crunch”?

About the writer: Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.