Sometimes data is very discouraging. One of my dear friends told me that she will never attempt to raise venture capital funding because there’s only a three percent chance that she’d actually attain it, according to Crunchbase’s Q3 2019 Diversity Report and critical thinkers like Devin Thorpe at Forbes Magazine.
This breaks my heart, because women-led companies are often considered more efficiently managed and can deliver a higher investor return. But, I can’t wave a magic wand and change this funding statistic overnight. However, I can help my fellow female entrepreneurs by sharing alternative funding sources that I’m aware of. This article identifies eight different funding approaches, such as angel investment, crowdfunding, VC, Impact, and Factoring Investors, that businesses of any size can consider; and lists 34 funding resources that can begin your funding pursuit.
If you want insight into alternative funding sources, check out VentureCapital.org. As the first venture accelerator, this entity has helped over 850 companies pitch to companies, realizing over $10 billion in investor payouts. VentureCapital.org also manages the Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund (EDLF) structuring venture departments for emerging high-tech and manufacturing companies in the Salt Lake County.
Locally, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) helps companies understand what is next in growth plans. It’s a part of the Salt Lake Community College campus and offers a variety of services that can prepare your company for funding.
A powerfully connected organization throughout Utah state is the Women’s Business Center. In particular, check out the WBC’s online resource hub where they highlight entrepreneur services and events, statewide.
Other organizations that are geared to service Utah women and minority business owners are Womenpreneurs, Braid Workshop, SoGal SLC, and BetaBoom. Additionally, Grow Utah provides a list of funding sources to spur economic development.
Or, the next time that you’re at your business’ bank branch, schedule fifteen minutes with your commercial banker, and they will explain sources that are relevant to your company’s industry, location, and credit strength.
Grants are helpful for newly formed companies that have a business plan and credit history. Some grants can provide up to $30,000.00 to help establish your business.
If your newly formalized company is going to have a larger fiscal impact (such as the potential to grow to a $10M + annual revenue company) and the impact will create more jobs, look at SBIR and STTR grants. These government-funded grants are created to stimulate the economy. These STTR grants are unique because they are affiliated with a university and are non-dilutive in equity (meaning you don’t give up a portion of your company for money).
Grants don’t require a payback, however, the process to win these grants are very rigorous and can take up to six months or longer. If you’re interested in pursuing an SBIR grant, find a grant-writing specialist to help draft a winning proposal.
Angels invest their own money in return for equity ownership in the company. As accredited investors, angels can invest in your company at any funding stage, and may choose to invest after your company formalized the team, or proved traction through revenue, or received funding through “Friends and Family” investments.
Angels want to participate in companies that will grow significantly enough to attract an acquisition by a larger company within a reasonable time frame, such as five to ten years. The purchase or acquisition is important to Angels because this is when they get their financial return on their investment. It’s commonly called an “exit” or “liquidity” event, and they pay attention to this because they not only want their money back, but they want a significant upside, such as a 10 x return on their initial investment.
Other angels may be open to other forms of financing, such as loans or dividends when making an investment into your company, so be prepared to understand different funding structures and expected outcome.
You may either work one-on-one with an angel investor, or with an angel group, who pool their investment together and have the same investment criteria and expectation. The latter approach is a great way for an entrepreneur to reach multiple investors.
If you want to learn more about angel investment, the Angel Capital Association website (www.angelcapitalassociation.org), provides some education resources for entrepreneurs as well as a list of angel groups in the US. The Angel Resource Institute releases an annual Halo Report highlighting national and regional investment trends.
Generally, angel groups require that you submit an application, share details about your business plan and traction, and most importantly talk about your founding team.Then you may be invited to a screening to present your company, which begins the evaluation and diligence process.
There are several angel organizations that focus on funding women-led companies. Keiretsu Forum is the largest global angel investment forum, with over 58 chapters globally. Golden Seeds is one of the largest Angel investor organizations in the USA, and has several chapters in every state. Pipeline Angels has made over 70 investments in women-led companies.
Crowdfunding raises capital through individuals or organizations who invest in (or donate to) crowdfunding projects in return for a potential profit or reward. These rewards are set up by the entrepreneur, and is available for a limited amount of time.
Crowdfunding takes significant work from small startups with sparse resources. This funding approach favors consumer products, impact causes, interaction or journey enhancing products. Crowdfunding requires a good story that is easily relatable and can appeal to uneducated investors, and is something that can be easily understood and shared through social media.
Recently, Nurish App launched a crowdfunding campaign on iFundWomen. They chose to do this to basically drive marketing and to also test product packaging and acceptance by allowing prospective customers vote with their wallets. It’s a very smart process to test market interest and product-market fit.
There are many crowdfunding sites that may be best for your business. Some of the leading ones are Kickstarter, Fundable, Indiegogo, and Crowdrise/ GoFundMe. Similar to iFundWomen, Fund Dreamer is built to encourage diversity and female investors.
There are a few caveats to pay attention to when pursuing crowdfunding - often the funding sources are all friends of the business to cover the majority of the investment. If the company does not have a strong network base and general public appeal, then don’t pursue this option. Additionally, starting off with crowdfunding may add complications to future funding rounds which may deter investors.
Venture Capitalists/Impact Investors
There are investors who fully embrace diverse executive teams and companies who were founded by women. These VCs are looking for impact, high-performing companies with a proven revenue stream, and are poised to scale. When accepting investments from venture capitalists, your company ownership will be diluted, similar to angel investors, but the advantages that the capital and the connections provide are worth the trade. Often the phrase “small piece of a large pie” illustrates the expected return.
When you approach venture capitalists and institutional investors, certainly have a “payback” plan solidified - like when will you plan to return their money and with what additional upside for the investor who took a risk on your company.
Here are a few organizations to consider that specialize in women-led organization and impact investments.
MergeLane Venture Fund has invested in 40 companies and focuses on Seed and Series A investments.
The Artemis Fund is headed by Leslie Goldman, a newcomer to Utah. They are a fantastic investment group that is headquartered in Houston, Texas, but are establishing Utah presence.
Ellevest is a great organization that invests in companies that elevate women. Pretty cool twist in my opinion.
Belle Impact Funds also invests in women-led companies that require early-stage funding.
If your company has a product and just got a massive purchase order, but doesn’t have the cash flow to fulfill it, you can borrow against these POs with the help of your banker or a third party organization such as Via Capital, Apio Finance, or BlueVine.
Don’t underestimate how a bank loan can be a viable financial source for your business. To begin the process, work with your commercial banker.
To craft this article, I asked my network about realistic funding resources, and their response was uplifting. Three people in particular listed several options that are proven to fund viable businesses, and I want to personally thank them for publicly contributing their knowledge. If you’re interested in seeking advice about these different topics, I encourage you to connect with them through LinkedIn.
Jolene Anderson is well versed in capital management, especially around angel funding. Jolene is the Chapter President of the Keiretsu Forum in Boise, Idaho, and she is also the Principal at JMR Consulting. She’s a board advisor, a strategist, and a business educator who opens her door to anyone who wants to learn.
Nancy Hayes is an angel investor and is an advisor to women entrepreneurs and was on the leadership team of the Silicon Valley chapter of Golden Seeds angel group. Nancy had an impressive career in corporate, nonprofit and academia as well as co-founding a crowdfunding site for women with small businesses. She then began to break into angel investing, pitch competitions, and mentorship. Nancy constantly gives to women entrepreneurs, and her efforts and follow-through are amazing.
Richard Swart is a crowdfunding expert, located here in Utah. I’ve had the pleasure to learn from him, and can tell you that crowdfunding may be a successful funding path for the right business. Richard offers guidance and insight about crowdfunding that is extremely helpful to companies of all sizes and business types.
This is just the beginning of an alternative funding resource list. There are many more sources that likely I forgot to mention. However, feel free to add other funding sources, suggestions or feedback in the comments below, and perhaps if the comments are lively enough, I’ll update this article or write a continuum.
But until then, best of luck to my fellow female entrepreneurs. Don’t let funding break your stride or affect your dreams.