Steady At The Helm: CEO Investing Millions In Female Entrepreneurs
The helm of a ship is the mechanism that steers the vessel. So the person at the helm is the leader. Where the ship sails is up to her.
Lindsey Taylor Wood is the founder and CEO of The Helm, and she aims to steer this venture capital fund firm to investing millions in female founders. And only female founders.
With the mission of “a radical new approach to change the pipeline of capital available to women,” The Helm launches this month “as a global network investing in female innovation,” Wood says. The fund connects investors with female entrepreneurs who need their backing across all industries.
Wood, along with The Helm co-founders Erin Shipley and Emily Verellen Strom, has a female-centric mission.
“In the first year we’d like to launch with 40 members (investors) with $2 million in investments for eight to 10 deals. ” She says, “The minimum check size will be $200,000 for every female founder.”
That is good news to female founders who receive a paltry portion of available VC funding.
In its new report, Crunchbase details “women entrepreneurs are faring when it comes to closing venture capital funding. While only 10 percent of venture capital is invested in female-led startups, some 20 percent of startups pitching for capital are women-led,” writes Lisa Calhoun, general partner of Valor Ventures in Inc..
“The venture capital industry is experiencing extreme embarrassment from closer scrutiny of the industry’s overall pattern of sexual harassment and gender discrimination,” Calhoun writes. “Last year, for example, $94 billion was invested in male-only founder teams. And $10 billion was invested in women co-founded firms.”
Calhoun, managing partner at Valor, was “the first woman to launch a venture capital firm in Georgia. Her leadership has contributed to over a billion dollars in liquidity, including supporting exits in adtech, legal, energy and emerging b2b technologies. She serves on the global Board of 100,000-member Women Who Code,” according to Valor.
“As female-founded startups grow, the access to capital gets even harder. Last year, for example, women-led firms raised 17 percent of seed dollars–pretty much on par. But only 13 percent of early-stage dollars (Series A, B) and just 7 percent of late-stage dollars. Understanding the investing biases of venture firms as you continue to grow your business can help you save time–and frustration,” according to Calhoun.
Wood agrees. Lower check sizes are typical in female-founded startups. “It is lowest for women across all sectors, but especially hard for women not in beauty, health, wellness or consumer” sectors. Wood says The Helm will fund startups in high growth tech startups including pharma, tech, AI and more.
The Helm’s advisory board members include Kathryn Minshew, CEO & co-founder of The Muse and Pat Mitchell, former president and CEO of PBS. Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb and Gerry Layborne, co-founder of Katapult are investors and members.
The annual membership fee for members is $2,500 and a minimum investment of $50,000. As members, the investors will have an opportunity to have access to a community of innovators. Members will be able to have “bespoke experiences” that include salons, field trips, meetings with founders and tours, also have networking services. Members also will have educational opportunities and will receive a quarterly newsletter with intel and insights about the female founders supported by The Helm.
Wood and her team have been researching and networking for more than a year to launch The Helm. In her research of female founders, she says, “I never spoke to a woman who thought it would be anything but arduous. It is an understood and well-articulated reality that this is hard, daunting and challenging.”
The funding disparities begin in the pitch sessions when perceptions and projections are gender-based.
“Men are more successful when they go into rooms, because men are judged on promise and vision and women are judged on what they have done,” Wood says. “That’s much more of a heavy lift.”
Wood arrives at The Helm with an expertise “in the empowerment of girls and women,” she says, collaborating in 2015 with MAKERS on their first-ever feature documentary Once and for All. She also launched a “consulting firm with a gender lens with strategies for philanthropy,” as founder and president of LTW.
“I do not believe philanthropy should be the only way we invest in equality,” Wood says. “It doesn’t make sense to me, we need a systemic shift. For all the limitations that philanthropy has, I came away realizing that you can gather around a mission and a goal that is emotionally resonant.“
The gender divide in investment is something that needs to change drastically, Wood says.
“Historically men with wealth are investing to amass more wealth. When women have wealth, they are asked to give their money away. The subtext is men are investing and are powerful. For women it is altruistic.”
One creates wealth. The other gives it away.
“Venture capital is the most inequitable,” Wood says. ”The scaffolding of these companies needs to be helmed by people who are women and women of color. Anyone should be at the helm and we should remove the systemic barriers.”
Women founders of startups can become involved in The Helm network and learn how to receive seed funding for their innovative ideas. And Wood has some clear, keen advice.
“Ultimately you get there. It may be the 71st meeting, but you will get there. You can have hundreds of meetings to raise small rounds. As a founder, be prepared, focus on the thing you can be the best at in the near term to get you where you want your company to go. Do one thing at a time. Do not be discouraged.”
Yet, she adds, “It is deeply surprising to me the lack of financial literacy.” So learn as much as possible about the money you need and how you will get it and use it. And know your stuff.
As someone with years of experience globally and domestically in efforts to empower women and girls in their lives, Wood has met with several hundreds of top level executives, founders, investors and more. But one conversation sticks out as the most shocking—and most telling about what women founders are up against in the marketplace.
“One of the truly startling conversations was with a man over coffee who self identifies as a feminist. He told me I should be a vegan because being a cow being milked every day is worse than any woman can ever experience,” Wood says. “It was bizarre, humbling and shocking.”
She continues. “There are a million things that surprise me every day. I am focusing on the relationship with women, money and power. And reclaiming that, that is why I started the Helm.”
Learn more about how you can work toward gender parity and fairness in leadership at Take The Lead Day November 14, a global day of action for leadership parity. Register for an event or host your own. Sign up and register here.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com