Women Find New Ways To Raise Venture Capital
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
If you have a new business idea, the classic way to get startup money is through venture capital. But the people who end up getting those dollars tend to share something in common with the investors - they are men. Sarah Gonzalez with our Planet Money team finds that some women are going around venture capital.
SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: Arion Long is super confident, has no problem pitching to a group of men.
ARION LONG: I like to think that I'm a mix of entertainer, CEO and smart-ass when I'm pitching.
GONZALEZ: At age 26, she created a monthly subscription box for women - a PMS kit comes with organic feminine care products, face masks, body scrubs and, of course, chocolate.
LONG: Yes, chocolate, chocolate and tea (laughter).
GONZALEZ: There's a similar subscription box for men who shave. They get new razor blades and shaving cream once a month. And that business was acquired for a billion dollars. So Long thinks she already has proof this concept works. She takes her PMS kit to venture capitalists.
LONG: I mean, you can literally see the disdain and sometimes cringing on their faces.
GONZALEZ: Ninety-one percent of venture capitalists who fund new businesses are men according to an analysis by the site Axios.
LONG: If I had a dime for every time a male told me to find a female investor or, you know, maybe I should be speaking to someone else who knows what it's like to have a period, I'd be rich right now.
GONZALEZ: She starts to think her product is the problem. But then she takes her same pitch, same product to a different environment and gets a different result.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Here we go. The Femly box, entrepreneur No. 1.
GONZALEZ: She starts going to pitch competitions. Aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to venture capitalists judges on a stage with an audience.
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LONG: Hello, everyone.
GONZALEZ: In this environment, Long gets to watch her competitors pitch. And she starts to think maybe her product isn't the problem, maybe it's how funders see her - a black woman.
LONG: I get questioned more, deeper and differently. It's like I have to give my first born or my left leg.
GONZALEZ: But here in this open process, Long is winning - $5,000, then $20,000, free office space for a year. She says pitch competitions work better for people like her.
LONG: So whenever I'm going around to different pitch competitions, I'm finding that I'm running into the same people. And all of us are minorities - black or Latino.
GONZALEZ: Just 2 percent of all venture capital dollars in the U.S. went to women last year. That's according to the firm PitchBook. And women of color? They get even less. Jess Lee is with Sequoia Capital. She's one of the 9 percent of female venture capitalists. And she says a few of them recently started getting together. It began with one email around the Me Too movement.
JESS LEE: We saw CEOs step down, VC firms fall apart. It just showed that something had changed and that there was a window of opportunity.
GONZALEZ: They've since formed a group called Female Founder Office Hours. They're offering mentorship to female CEOs, and they have a goal of doubling the number of female venture capitalists over 10 years - 10 years. Sarah Gonzalez, NPR News, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF TOKIMONSTA'S "LOVELY SOUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.