Women founders: How to beat bias to get backing for your business

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“The thing I really loved about my fundraising journey is the thing we wanted didn’t exactly happen, but something just as good did,” said Andrea Barrica, co-founder and CEO of O School, a “judgment-free, science-based sexual wellness education platform,” which received many rejections in the beginning. Potential investors said that sexual wellness wasn’t something that traditional venture capitalists (VCs) would consider, so Barrica had to start a friends and family fundraising round instead. “From there, it was a journey in figuring out what to build,” she said. O School raised $500,000 in this initial round and then another $2 million once the business started to resonate with institutional investors who wanted to get on board, but didn’t want to lead on it. “It took a little longer, but it also went really fast, at times—the first million took the longest, then the second million took a week,” she said.

Hayley Bay Barna, partner, First Round Capital, and co-founder of Birchbox, a beauty subscription service, had a similar experience. “Sometimes, it’s a slog. Sometimes, it comes quickly,” she said.

Everyone said that they deviated from their planned path. “Our journey has been anything but linear,” said Adriana Vazquez Ortiz, co-founder and CEO of Lilu, a women’s health company that “empowers new moms” by building tech-enabled devices that make breast milk pumping easier and more comfortable. Vazquez Ortiz said she “started talking to VCs pretty early on” but found it wasn’t the right approach for her business at that stage, as investors didn’t really see the potential in what she was proposing. Although disheartening, it gave her the motivation to seek funding from alternative sources.

Laura Wittig’s Brightly platform and associated podcast, which aims to “empower conscious consumers around the world,” shot to fame after being featured on Apple just months after launch—securing enough funding to go full-time. But then COVID-19 surged, and investors stopped writing checks. Undeterred, Wittig picked up conversations with the same investors later in 2020 and managed to close a $1 million round by early January 2021. She did it on Zoom, underlining the need to pivot to new ways of working. Everyone agreed that videoconferencing and other remote working tools have been positive for founders, allowing greater access and opportunities to find international investors.

The key lesson? Things don’t always go as planned, so be prepared to adapt.

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