There’s been a lot of talk concerning women raising capital recently and what that overall landscape looks like. Many venture capital funds and angel groups are waking up to the fact that while women-led companies are not rare, the capital invested in them sure is.
In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, only 2.3% of women-led startups received venture capital funding in 2020. Oh and 38% of businesses are women-led so figure that one out. But still, there’s this overwhelming trend where some people seem to get up up-in-arms when women bring this issue to the forefront.
As a startup founder and CEO who is female, I can tell you that navigating these waters and finding my voice has been tricky. Until a couple of years ago, I chose to ignore the facts as I grew my business, FanSaves, in the male-dominated sports-tech industry. I chose to look the other way, put my head down and work to prove everyone wrong. But now we’re currently in the middle of our Seed Round and it’s become relevant again. I finally realized this isn’t about me, this is about an issue bigger than I’ll ever be and it’s time to find my voice again.
For most of my life, I have been the only woman on the teams I have been part of, and it has shaped me in a unique way. Since my days of playing organized hockey on an all-boys team to my time growing my career in sports marketing on a team of all men to the meetings I’m often in now– the sole woman in a sea of men, I have lengthy experience being the only woman in the room and it really doesn’t faze me.
What phases me is that women all over the world are not being given the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Being a competitive individual myself, I have never looked for a handout simply because I’m a woman. I have never asked to be selected for anything because I check a box and I would certainly hope my company gets funded because it’s an amazing investment opportunity and not simply because I’m a female founder.
That is not what women want. Women aren’t looking for special treatment just because they’re female. Instead, women want to be afforded the same opportunities that men are, they want to be given the same shot and they want to be considered in the same way. We want to begin at the same starting line but clearly, that’s not happening.
Men have said to my face (pre-Covid) it’s a good time to be a woman in the startup world… implying that women are getting handed freebies and one-ups just because of our gender. I see some men commenting online that gender has nothing to do with it and that if a business is good, it will get funded no matter who the founder is. Ideally, yes. Realistically, the numbers tell a different story.
Sure, I get it. I used to have the same mindset. Make my business so good they can’t ignore me, right? Easier said than done. It’s been well documented that when pitching for capital, investors tend to ask men questions about their potential gains while women about the potential for losses. I’ve seen it myself first-hand, as my co-founder Kris is a white male and will often get the initial attention and business questions from investors while I stand there (again, pre-Covid) being treated like I’m invisible.
Fortunately, Kris is also my life partner and my biggest ally. He is actually the one who really helped me find my voice on this issue as he began noticing so many discrepancies in the startup world first-hand. From how people treated me to my face (I’ve been asked straight up if I’m his secretary) to the investment questions directed at him compared to the questions I get asked, Kris took notice and started standing up for me in these situations, ultimately giving me the confidence to stand up for myself.
So, if you are a person reading this, no matter your gender, and your first thought is “Just make a good business and you’ll get funded” it’s time to listen to what the women experiencing it firsthand are saying. It seems simple enough to build a great business and raise capital but those who are living it are shouting from the rooftops that their chances are not actually equal and it’s time for people to start doing more than just listening.
It’s time to start enacting change and taking women seriously. It’s time for investors (both male and female) to be more aware of the questions they’re asking of each gender and if they’re looking to invest in the best companies out there, they need to let go of their unconscious gender biases and give women the same chance that men receive.
I applaud the investors who have already started implementing change and I applaud those who are allies and who, like Kris, point out things when they aren’t fair even if it doesn’t affect them directly. The more voices who speak to this issue, the more people will begin to listen and isn’t that how real change begins?
As an extremely competitive and driven woman, I have always believed I can do anything I set my mind to and looking for special treatment has never been part of the way I operate. It’s important to remember that we’re not looking for special treatment but just a fair shot.
And despite being a female founder currently raising investment when the numbers are so bleak (again, 2.3%), I am hopeful and determined that the shift is happening, that people are noticing and that women will break down these invisible barriers and maybe one day, we can move that dial and get that number closer to 50%. It’s worth a (fair) shot isn’t it?
By the way, if you like my ‘Girls just wanna have FUNding’ shirt and would like to help share the ‘Fair Shot’ message they are available at www.acquiredshop.com.
by Shannon Ferguson
Shannon Ferguson is the Co-Founder & CEO of FanSaves, a tech startup changing the sponsorship and fan engagement industry. If you would like to discuss her journey as a female founder or her seed round, you can reach out to her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.