This is the third of three installments featuring the insights of a panel of speakers present at the New Hampshire High Tech Council (NHHTC) TechWomen Power Breakfast called, “Wanted: Women Angels.” The panel discussed women’s involvement in angel investing. Read the first installment here and the second installment here.
The panel was facilitated by Liz Gray, who is the director of entrepreneurship for New Hampshire’s Live Free and Start initiative. Liz raised a question to speaker, Margaret Donnelly, co-founder and chief marketing officer of AlignMeeting, a study out of Harvard that proved that gender discrimination unfortunately still exists in the context of entrepreneurial pitching. The study revealed that investors preferred pitches from male entrepreneurs over pitches from female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitches was identical. Attractive men were the most highly “persuasive” pitchers of all. Liz asked for Margaret’s input on this disparity.
Margaret told the Power Breakfast’s audience that three different studies determined that, given exactly the same business, exactly the same script and pitch, and with only a voice-over from a male or female, 68% of the time the male was given the money or the backing. Margaret noted that it wasn’t just the male judges who made that determination; the female judges were similarly biased. So, gender bias isn’t just men having a bias against women; it’s an overall bias.
Other studies, Margaret said, show that 87% of venture-funded companies are led by men, even though studies show that companies with female leadership have an average of 35% better ROI and 12% higher revenues. So, while diversity clearly has a tremendously positive impact on a company’s business results, women seeking investment support are still not getting funded as frequently. In addition, women are not stepping up to be leaders within these companies to enable a shift to happen.
Personally, Margaret states she has felt unease at the prospect of being judged based upon her sex rather than upon the merits of her business. She admitted that perhaps she isn’t judged as harshly because she is a co-founder along with two men, and wonders if investors think that makes her “safer.” “It’s really, really difficult to raise money, to begin with, and with these biases, it’s monumentally harder.”
Liz asked for Margaret’s opinion about her experience establishing her business in New Hampshire.
Margaret came from Silicon Valley and arrived in New Hampshire about seven years ago. She described the working environment there to be much more adversarial. “Some companies out there would create parallel teams to solve a problem and these teams would be encouraged to fight to the death against one another. It was survival of the fittest, and you would hate the other team and try to crush them. So that was the ‘team-building’ mentality out there.”
Fast-forward to moving to New Hampshire, and Margaret states, “It’s one of the most supportive and inviting environments I’ve ever seen. If you ask for help from someone here, they not only help you but they bring along other people to help you, too. It’s just been an eye-opening experience to see a community that is so focused on bringing everybody up instead of putting other people down.”
In closing, the panelists gave the following advice for those looking for investment funding:
- Talk to people in different organizations, such as the NHHTC, as to what angels are looking for or which groups are interested in which areas.
- Angel groups are always open to pitches. First, understand how they like to invest and what areas they’re interested in, to determine if they’re viable for your venture.
- Live Free and Start’s website has an entire page dedicated to those seeking funding. They are also conducting educational forums around the state.
- Talk to as many connections as possible to see if you can find someone who knows someone in an angel group, to get a warm referral and a connection.
- Be prepared before you make the first ask. Work to get the pitch right.
- New Hampshire has five outstanding incubators that may be helpful for you.
- Try to get other founders to work with you, because it’s much harder to do it alone. The founding team of a company can make it or break it. You have to be comfortable saying hard things to each other and everyone has to be there to do whatever it takes to make the business successful.
- Ask for help.
- Entrepreneurs in New Hampshire should take advantage of the state’s tight network of connections. People talk about the six degrees of separation but in New Hampshire it’s more like two or three. Work with it.
The panelists were optimistic about future improvement to gender bias and opportunities for economic parity, but it’s really up to us. Progress only happens if you do the work and create initiatives to promote change and growth.
The TechWomen Power Breakfast series is an initiative of the New Hampshire High Tech Council, serving professionals enthusiastic about technology and supporting the efforts of girls exploring STEM as a career or area of study. The next TechWomen Power Breakfast will be on Wednesday, September 14th at 7:30am and will feature Jody Holt, CFO of Single Digits, on “Policies and Practices for a Professionally Fulfilling Life – A Marathon, not a Moment.” For more information and to register, visit the NHHTC website.
Candice Benson is an internationally recognized management consultant and CEO of Benson Consulting Inc. She is chairperson of the New Hampshire High Tech Council’s TechWomen Power Breakfast Series committee. Connect with her and her blog here.