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Women Founders + Investors Explore Making Capital Access More Equitable

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Greentown Labs community was proud to celebrate many of the women leading the climatetech industry at “Women of Climatetech: Access to Success,” in collaboration with our friends at LACI. The event connected women founders and women investors, with the goal of overcoming barriers women climatetech entrepreneurs face in raising capital.

The numbers are stark: companies with all women founders received 2.7 percent of VC funding in 2019, and Black and Latinx women founders received only 0.64 percent between 2018 and 2019, Fortune reports. These trends exist despite the fact that, according to McKinsey & Company, teams with gender and racial diversity are 35 percent more likely to have an above-median ROI. 

But the founders and investors who spoke at the event’s roundtable presented a path toward a more equitable climatetech industry—exploring ways that we can drive significant, sustaining, and inclusive change to support women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color.

Read on for insights from the roundtable panelists! The panel was moderated by Carmen Palafox, partner at MiLA Capital.

How can women founders overcome gender-based fundraising hurdles?

When you’re asked a question differently because you’re a woman, you get to choose how you answer.

Whereas investors tend to ask men “promotional” questions that center around opportunities, they typically ask women “prevention” questions that emphasize risks, according to Kirsch. She recommends pivoting your answer to a prevention question into a promotional answer, allowing you to dig into why investors should be really excited about your solution.

Confidence is key.

Both Terry and Speirs shared that they draw confidence from knowing that their technology is the best solution out there, and Speirs said she counteracts feelings of imposter syndrome by reminding herself how much harder she has had to work, as a woman of color, to make it to where she is today.

Choose your investors thoughtfully.

The panelists emphasized the importance of choosing investors that will respect you and are aligned with your values and vision. Terry said her team asks potential investors about how they would bring value to the company, and Barber chimed in to say that she appreciates when founders ask thoughtful questions—it shows that rather than “just looking for a check,” they understand the immense opportunity of startup-investor relationships.

“Raise from women who you know and admire—that’s a great place to start,” Kirsch advised. “If you can’t do that, at least raise from funds with a great track record for diversity.”

Take care of yourself.

Entrepreneurship is emotionally taxing, especially if you’re a woman, and even more so if you’re a woman of color. The panelists underlined the importance of looking after your mental health and surrounding yourself with people who will support you, including advisers, a leadership coach, and a therapist.

How can investors of all genders make capital access more equitable?

We seem to be at an inflection point.

Zimmerman said she sees more and more investors acknowledging the importance of making access to capital more equitable and inclusive, and she encouraged others to dive in.

“We do not have a pipeline problem—we have a network problem. We can fix the network problem,” she said. “It’s really important for you, as an investor, to expand your network. Look at the data and evidence, recognize the opportunity, and get on it!”

Speirs also noted this change in investor attitudes. She recently began highlighting her team’s diversity as part of her pitch, she says, as she’s encountering more investors who realize this diversity is an asset.

Meaningful change needs to happen at the LP level.

Barber says there’s a big movement to increase LP diversity: “We need to work on the entire venture value train to build diversity at every stage. Women LPs and LPs of color who are check writers into funds are more likely to invest in VCs of color, who are then more likely to invest in diverse teams.”

Many, many individuals have some influence over investing.

Individuals who aren’t professional investors may have more influence over investing than they realize. Zimmerman recommends exploring how your alma mater, bank, or credit union stewards its investments, providing vocal input and support as an alumna/us or moving your account to a financial institution that practices gender and racial equity.