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Raising venture capital for a new business poses an extremely difficult challenge for anyone, but the odds are heavily stacked against women. Female company founders only received about 2% of all venture capital dollars invested in 2018, despite the fact that about 40% of all businesses are female-owned.
That hill is an even steeper climb in an industry like health care, which has been notoriously slow and even insular when it comes to adopting modern technologies that other industries welcomed with open arms years ago. That closed-minded attitude certainly applies to ideas coming from women in a male-dominated profession.
As a female entrepreneur in my mid-20s with an idea for an e-prescribing platform for specialty medications, I developed a five-step playbook that got my company off the ground and proved to people entrenched in their faith in antiquated methods that new technology solutions work.
If you’re eager to break into your space as an executive, leader or entrepreneur, here are a few points to keep in mind.
1. Be Better
I believe aspiring female entrepreneurs just have to be better because they have to answer more questions and handle more skepticism overall than their male counterparts. On the flip side, dealing with an elevated level of scrutiny motivates women to create stronger ideas. Since they’re not given as many opportunities as men, women become nimbler and, in my opinion, build better, more sustainable companies in the long run.
Kevin O’Leary, also known as “Mr. Wonderful” on Shark Tank, admitted he has preferred to invest in companies led by women since an analysis of his portfolio revealed all (not some) of his female-led investments were returning capital. He called women a lower-risk investment that generated higher returns, and I attribute this compliment to the tough, resourceful female mentality.
2. Find A Champion
I realized early on I needed to find someone to bring credibility and champion my idea to get my foot in the door with investors. So, I brought a respected male doctor with me to every meeting. We’d walk into the room, and he would say, “Zoë has a great idea, and here’s why I believe it could work.” Incorporating a reputable male presence was a great way to validate my idea and get through the psychological barrier of not being taken seriously before I even said a word. Once that introduction was out of the way, I took over from there and owned the rest of the meeting.
3. Own Your Style, Own Your Pitch
Dress code can present many challenges for a woman at an investor meeting or board meeting. It’s easy to worry about whether men will judge your attire as “too girly,” “too provocative” or unprofessional.
I drew inspiration on this issue from Kevin Starr, a partner at Third Rock Ventures, which has raised over $2 billion in capital. He collects designer sneakers and is known to wear leather jackets and Chrome Hearts jewelry. I attribute part of his success to his confidence in himself and feeling comfortable in his own skin. He doesn’t try to dress like someone he’s not and neither should you. I’ve taken a page out of his book by wearing clothes that make me comfortable for meetings. If you are uncomfortable in your clothes, that will invariably come through in your presentation. Find a wardrobe you can shine in.
4. Don’t Waste Your Time
There’s a psychological theory called the regulatory focus theory that divides decision makers into two mindsets: a promotion mindset or a prevention mindset. The promotion mindset looks for creative ways to make an idea work, while the prevention mindset tries to think of ways an idea can fail.
When talking about your company or idea, if more than half of the questions you field are prevention questions (e.g., Do you think XYZ could be a problem for your company?), then that person most likely does not believe in your idea. My rule of thumb is that if you receive three prevention questions in a row, politely walk away, and don’t waste time on someone who isn’t serious about supporting you. Yes, it is frustrating and deflating. However, the energy you waste on feeling frustrated is energy you could spend on executing your mission or finding someone who believes in it and wants to promote your company.
5. Nail Your Pitch Deck And The Partner Meeting
The No. 1 thing I tell aspiring entrepreneurs going into pitch meetings is to nail your pitch deck and stick to it. Keep in mind that investors are formulaic in their thinking and look for patterns they’ve seen in successful companies. Don’t do anything weird in the meeting, such as showing a short movie, making a silly pitch or introducing an impromptu guest. These ideas waste time and keep investors from asking key diligence questions. The pitch deck is a formula that enables investors to go back to their partners and answer basics like total addressable market (TAM), go-to-market (GTM) strategy and revenue model.
The partner meeting is a chance for them to connect with you, see how you think on your feet and how you view the market, and gauge your level of confidence in executing. Have advisers with you who can answer deep technical questions. Investors who are pattern matching will see a visionary with a big idea, surrounded by experts helping make that dream a reality. The goal of the partner meeting is twofold: Nail the pitch deck so all the diligence questions are wrapped up in a bow, and instill confidence that the team has the right mix of talent to deliver.
The fact that women don’t benefit from the same venture dollars as men right now has been well-documented, but I firmly believe that, with the right attitude, approach and execution, we will soon see more companies with female leaders. When great entrepreneurs come to a wall, whether it’s over, under or through, they will find a way to get to the other side, regardless of their gender.
April 29, 2019 at 08:08AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs