Female founders are gaining ground in venture capital, but the funding gap between genders remains broad.
In a recent online session, ILIA founder Sasha Plavsic, Rael CEO and co-founder Yanghee Paik, Bank of America Senior Vice President and Market Manager Grace Kangdani, and Upfront Ventures Partner Aditi Maliwal explored how female founders and investors are navigating the landscape during dot.LA's recent strategy session.
One of the biggest initial challenges for women entrepreneurs with female-focused products is convincing investors of their value.
Yanghee Paik, founder of Rael, said that because her company's products are centered around feminine care and feminine health, it could be difficult to explain to male investors why Rael was so necessary.
"There have been a lot of big companies who have been pushing some new innovations, but none of them has been really focused on the need or the natural aspect of feminine care products," said Paik. "That took a lot of effort for us — to really do a lot of pitching with a lot of education about the products' industry itself."
But when founders — not just female founders — know their markets, their value proposition and build their network, they have the tools for success.
Grace Kangdani, senior vice president at Bank of America shared key characteristics of successful presentations, products and companies.
"A lot of the people with the checkbook, let's be honest, it's still male dominated," said Kangdani. "Have (a) network of people and different kinds of people. If you're selling a women-specific targeted product, have men in the mix to bounce off ideas, [to see if] it's resonating with them too. Know your product. Know your value proposition ... build your network and build your tribe."
Relationships are key when building a team.
Rael's founding team is a group of three women, including Paik, and she shared how they support each other through the ups and downs of running a company.
"Being an entrepreneur is a very lonely journey, and sometimes you need the support from your team or co-founders or investors. It's always the easiest [when you] have co-founders to talk about the challenges," said Paik.
Sasha Plavsic, founder of the makeup brand ILIA shared that because she started very grassroots, surrounding herself with a strong network was key to expanding her company.
"In business, it's ultimately about relationships and building that trust, and it doesn't matter what stage you're at," Plavsic said. "But definitely in the earlier stages it is more of a challenge, and [if] you do need some people skills and if you don't have it, you need a partner that will need to bring it."
Access, successfully presenting your company and your value and confidence are key for female founders to break into male-dominated spaces.
Upfront Ventures partner Aditi Maliwal has an extensive background in fintech, a space that is still extremely male dominated, and finds value in seeking out other women in the industry.
"There aren't enough opportunities for female founders to get in front of a whole variety of other people," Maliwal said. "I relate very well with [female founders] and so I want to be able to help my demographic. That being said, that's not to say that I don't want to spend time with other demographics — I absolutely do. I just want to find ways to have alignment in my values and hopefully their values."
Genuinely listening to groups outside your own demographic is key to promoting gender parity and supporting minority entrepreneurs.
That goes beyond just finding individuals from other backgrounds — it means truly listening to people and their motivations, even when it doesn't directly benefit you.
"It's pretty important to ensure that you're sort of giving space to these people, giving space to female founders giving them space to speak, to come in and be able to pitch, even if it's not necessarily a space that you would invest in," Maliwal said. "Ensure that you're spending time actually, getting to know the founder and not just … because you're a woman or you're such and such demographic, but [asking] 'what's your story?'"
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