What 19 Years of Angel Investing Has Taught Me About Women Entrepreneurs

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"After spending nearly two decades investing in early stage tech startups, I was fed up. " says Sara Weinheimer

By Sara Weinheimer, Founder, BroadMic

Before founding BroadMic, a podcast for and about female entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders, Sara Weinheimer spent 19 years as an angel investor, with a focus on women-led companies. She is currently the President of PuraVida Productions and is a former Goldman Sachs executive.

Last year, after spending nearly two decades investing in early stage tech startups, I was fed up.

It wasn’t just that valuations in these companies had doubled in two years thanks to an influx of investors looking for the Next Big Thing. It was that so few investors believed that the next Uber or Facebook could be built by women.

Listening to the coverage of Ellen Pao’s legal battle with her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, convinced me that the industry was desperately in need of change. Pao argued that the firm discriminated against her based on gender. She lost, but the trial opened up a Pandora’s box of questions when the ugly truth emerged about gender bias in Silicon Valley (and venture capital more broadly).

It is a truth that, while it may now be familiar to most women, shocked many of us who until then had been operating under the assumption that, sure, we were a minority, but it was all positive, it was all changing for the better, it wouldn’t be long before we caught up to the men, right?

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Here’s a quick refresher of the facts:

  1. Just 4% of VC-backed startups have all-female teams; 0.2% are founded by women of color.
  2. Companies with at least one female founder receive 10% of funding.

3. Only 7% of VC partners are women.

Even if you ignore the facts that women are now more educated than men; that we make up nearly half the labor force; that Harvard, McKinsey, et.al, have conducted studies that prove that diverse teams lead to better financial performance, these numbers are bad. But when you consider that this data is about the venture capital industry — a sector that has arguably overtaken traditional finance as the most powerful and influential in the world — then you can understand the extent of my frustration.

I spent the early years of my career on Wall Street working as a bond trader for Goldman Sachs. At the time, women made up less than 5% of industry leadership. It was male-dominated, high-stakes, and fast-paced — similar to the experience of women working in Silicon Valley today.

But I’m not here to rail against the “system” for catering to young, Ivy-educated white men. That’s not productive. Instead, I’d like to focus on what we can do now, in this imperfect environment, to embolden female entrepreneurs to think big, take risks, and launch and build companies.

We need a counter-narrative

One of the most repeated phrases you hear in conversation — especially about female entrepreneurs — is, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” While it’s become somewhat of a trope at this point, there is an unavoidable truth to this phrase. Anyone reading TechCrunch or Wired on a regular basis might assume that to be a founder, one has to fit a certain mold.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Uber’s Travis Kalanick, Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel have more in common than their gender and the billion-dollar valuations of their respective companies. They dress alike. They talk alike. They went to top universities and graduated into a social network that handed them opportunities.

For women, especially women of color, who haven’t graduated from Ivies and don’t have a network of friends and family with the funds to back their business ideas, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a place in the oh-so-exclusive boy’s club that is Silicon Valley. That’s why we need alternative platforms — platforms like Broadmic — to show that it can be done, that it is being done.

Role models are not enough

It’s not enough, however, to just point to examples of successful women and say, “Look, she did it! That means you can, too!” Women can’t be expected to take big leaps based on inspiration alone; they need picks and shovels to build whatever it is they want to build. And who is better qualified to give them these tools than a woman who has done it before?

When women approach me for advice, they don’t ask for a list of names; they ask for answers to the questions that plague every entrepreneur — male or female. Do I need a co-founder? How do I divide up the equity pie? What are my options for raising funds? How do I pick the right investors? How do I decide how much capital to raise? How do I build a team and create a world-class company culture?

As much as I’d like to have coffee with every female founder that approaches me, the investor in me knows that it’s not a scalable model. And yet, there’s something so valuable to be gleaned from these informal coffee chats, the experience of sitting and listening to a fellow entrepreneur, investor, or industry leader, one-on-one, mind-melding over what is possible, what is probable, what is strategic.

Let’s create a platform for change

We can use media to recreate the experience of getting to know — virtually and intimately — some of the most talented, creative, and accomplished women in the startup community.

Through platforms like BroadMic, any woman can get tips about pitching from venture capitalist Susan Lyne, who has worked with everyone from Rupert Murdoch to Martha Stewart; hear networking advice from Heidi Messer (Collective[i]), whose poker nights are easily the most sought-after invitations among the female business elite; or listen to Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal, creator of the famous “period panties,” rap about disruption.

But it’s not just about listening. It’s about activating your network.

We want you — smart, tech-savvy, ambitious women — to connect. With us. With each other. With the founders and investors that we bring into our studio each week.

Click here to listen to the BroadMic episodes, subscribe to the podcast, or sign up for our newsletter.

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