The Female Founders Fund is taking leaps to push women-run companies into the too oft boys club of business. Since its inception in 2014, the investment firm has cultivated a community of female-founded companies to buoy one another within the typically male-dominated field. “Our view is that we’re betting on the future and this will only grow over time,” said Anu Duggal, founding partner of Female Founders Fund.
Duggal said the Female Founders Fund was “inspired by the belief that the next wave of successful venture-backed businesses will be led by female founders. The goal was to build a firm that worked with these exceptional female founders at the early stages offering them both capital but more importantly, access to the strongest network of successful female operators and ceo’s in the world.”
Duggal initially centered the fund on technology companies established and run by women executives. “Female Founders Fund launched as an early stage fund investing in technology companies started by women with the thesis that it’s possible to get outsized returns by investing in a portfolio comprised of female founders,” she explained. “We saw three main factors behind this: more women helping build larger technology companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google; the massive opportunity to innovate on consumer experiences across products and services, and the evolution of the skill set required to build a successful technology company.”
Broadening its original focus, Female Founders Fund has invested in 25 active portfolio companies that fell within a wide range of industries spanning digital health, fin-tech, vertical commerce and marketplaces among others. Its current portfolio includes Zola wedding registry, Women.com, Eloquii and Minibar.
When reviewing candidates, Duggal and partner, Sutian Dong — who joined the fund in 2016 — look at the founders. “First and foremost, we are founder driven. We love working with founders who have relevant backgrounds and industry experience who are building businesses that tackle large market opportunities. That being said, there are several industries where we feel there is room for true innovation — women’s health and fertility, social commerce, and insurance for example,” she said.
Their influence is spreading. According to the firm’s report, “2016 Review of Female Founders Raising Institutional Capital,” the overall amount of U.S. Series A deals declined last year, but 17 percent of the round of funding were New York-based companies led by a female ceo. “This represents the highest annual percentage of Series A raised by female ceo’s in New York City since Female Founders Fund began tracking this data in 2013,” the report said.
Even businesses helmed by males have brought on a female executive. “Over the past 12 to 18 months, most of the largest venture funds have brought on a female partner — recognizing the importance of their access to differentiated deal-flow and perspective on market opportunities. There is room for progress, but we believe things are moving in the right direction,” Duggal said.
Moving in the right direction calls for fostering green c-level executives and building a community devised of pioneers. “With our brand, we have been able to access some of the most sought-after industry experts to speak to our founders. In addition, we’ve built a brand that is distinguished from the hundreds of seed funds in the market. We’ve also been able to build out a larger network of women who are ceo’s who want to see our portfolio founders succeed as mentors,” Duggal said.
It’s working. According to Duggal, the fund has seen more than 60 percent of their portfolio companies raise institutional funding from industry venture funds. She said, “In the last 12 months, Maven Clinic raised an $11 million Series A, WayUp raised an $18 million Series B, Zola raising a $25 million Series C led by Lightspeed and Tala raised a $30 million Series B led by IVP.”
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