There are many myths about what makes any given community great for entrepreneurship. The Kauffman Foundation, which has done some of the best research on what makes entrepreneurs tick (and what helps them be successful) admits that the "magic sauce" data about startup success (or failure) is just not there.
At the same time, there is a growing consensus that new companies are critical to creating a strong economy. From my perspective, new companies started by women will be one of the keys to a truly sustainable new economy. But first we have to overcome one of the biggest challenges within the ecosystem for women entrepreneurs: getting enough of the right amount of funding at an early enough stage to start and keep a company moving forward.
We have to create an environment that will help grow young businesses if we want women entrepreneurs to succeed. Ever a pragmatist, I wondered where we could find lessons learned in the real world that we can build upon.
So in October, my company (SmartGirls Way) took this question to Boston, which boasts a relatively high success rate of angel investment in women-founded companies. We partnered with the Center of Entrepreneurial Studies at Simmons College School of Management to bring together some impressive women entrepreneurs as well as investors of both sexes to dig deeper into the process of building a robust financial support network for women entrepreneurs.
Here are the top 10 insights from that great discussion:
Seek The Partner(s) You Need. It is very important to know what you can do and what you can’t do and have the right partners on your founding team.
Be Persistent. You will speak to hundreds of people and many of them will turn you down—at first. Investors often say no when they mean "not right now," and they tend to invest in women and companies who are consistent and persistent.
It’s Not Personal. Especially important for women entrepreneurs to remember. It’s a business proposition and even though it may be "your baby," it’s not personal. What data is there for you to mine to assure success the next time?
Build Relationships. You are creating a network of people who will introduce you to others, so take mentors wherever you get them. Investors tend to look for lines rather than dots. It’s about more than money.
Really Sell Your Vision. It’s great to know the business. But if you can convey that moment when the light went on for you, your potential investor will be more likely to see what you see. The investors we talk to tell us that never gets old. Passion sells and that’s great news for women entrepreneurs.
Understand Your Core Risk Also know how you are going to address it. It’s critical to sell your vision, and know what you will do about your challenges.
Really Listen. Get a dialogue going. Come in as ready to listen as you are to pitch.
Have A Clear Value Proposition. Know your business inside and out, and be prepared for your number to be cut in half. Make your ask strategic and don’t be overly modest about what you need and what you will do.
Have a Plan B! Nothing reduces anxiety like knowing that you have multiple options. Think through your worst- case scenario and be prepared to act on it if you need to.
Leverage Your Strengths. It’s important to remember that getting funding is as much an art as a science. You really need to use your intuition and integrity to discern the best decision for you and your company.
What Boston showed us that day was that if you can do the above, funding will follow. It just takes a few committed investors to turn an entire community into a great place for inspired women to grow businesses. And that’s the starting point for a blueprint of successful entrepreneurial cities for women.