Categorized | Business

How to Become a Successful Businesswoman

Posted on 05 November 2009

When it comes to venture capital, women entrepreneurs still get the crumbs, but they are figuring out how to get a few more these days.

Women entrepreneurs secured just 5% of the $48 billion of venture capital invested last year. Though that is up from a 2% share in previous years, studies show that women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. A study released earlier this year by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners shows that when women entrepreneurs actually get their business propositions before venture capitalists, their approval rates aren’t different from their male counterparts.

Thus the upshot: The biggest challenge for women is cracking the tight network of venture capitalists who are deluged with potential deals. But first, more women have to get out there — and learn how to play the game.

“This is a learned skill for most women,” says Kay Koplovitz, founder of the cable-television concern USA Networks and the chairwoman of the National Women’s Business Council, a bipartisan government advisory panel. “I don’t think women are as boastful and bald-faced about their business as men. They have to learn to project themselves in a way that makes a venture investor feel confident.”

Denise Brosseau, president of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs in San Mateo, Calif., recalls going to a Venture One fair last fall where start-up companies seeking shots of equity gave presentations before investors. Of 80 presenting companies, two were headed by women. And, she says: “I brought both of them.”

Ms. Koplovitz and Ms. Brosseau are among the organizers of Springboard , a venue for women entrepreneurs to make their pitches to equity investors. At the group’s first event this year in January, 20 woman entrepreneurs raised $180 million.

Last spring, organizers borrowed a hall on the America Online campus here and 44 women entrepreneurs made pitches and chatted up venture capitalists.

The presentations to venture capitalists last eight minutes. To prepare, the organizers spent days screening and grooming the entrepreneurs, thus assuring the investors that they won’t be wasting their time. The group also attends a one-day “boot camp” before the event, honing their presentations further.

The boot camp is “torture,” says Tanja Balkan of LeaseStar.com, a Plainview, N.Y., service that provides auto-leasing information on the Web. In small groups, entrepreneurs met for two or more hours with venture capitalists who volunteer to provide critiques. The women answer questions and refine presentations, often based on conflicting advice from investors. Says Ms. Balkan: “One would say, ‘I want to know more about your marketing.’ Another one would say, ‘Let’s hear more about your financial projections.’ ”

For Kelly O’Brien, co-founder of MoneyLife Inc., a Garrett Park, Md., provider of sales leads to financial-services companies, the boot camp drove home the point that investors care less about what her business does than about the return on investment. “At first, we were sidestepping the whole topic, and [the boot camp] made us decide to hit it between the eyes,” she says. The pair changed their last slide to focus on financial results, and closed with: “It’s about the money, honey.”

There was an hour or more spent with a professional coach. The lesson: show biz — how to project their voices, minimize gestures and avoid saying “umm.” A tradeshow coach instructed attendees on what to wear (neutral colors) and what to do (have an organized booth).

Ms. Balkan says she spent about 15 hours a week on the whole process for the past couple of months — a huge time commitment for someone involved in a new business. It was worth it, she says. “The minute I got off the stage, an investor grabbed me and we scheduled a meeting for the next day,” she says.

More-experienced women entrepreneurs dispensed their own advice. Susan Acker, chief executive of Blue292 Inc., of Durham, N.C., already had raised about $20 million for her business-to-business electronic marketplace for environmental health and safety products. “I’ve learned that you can’t just work one channel,” Ms. Acker says. “You have to work all of them — bankers, accountants, attorneys. You have to get your business plan in front of all of them.”

The preconference work was evident in the presentations — sharply distilled talks before 300 people, with the entrepreneurs striding around on the stage, Oprah-style, as giant power-point slides loomed on screens overhead. Virtually every entrepreneur included at least a sentence on the “exit strategy” for the investor — a likely merger, sale or initial public offering.

“If nothing else, we’ve learned how to play this game,” says Ms. O’Brien of MoneyLife.

The coaching clearly fills a need. The study by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners found that many women entrepreneurs are woefully unfamiliar with the expectations that are part of an equity investment. To the question: “If you did seek equity capital for your business, what share of ownership of your company would you be willing to give up in exchange for the investment?” a whopping 48% said none. Just 15% said they would give up as much as 10%. Venture capitalists typically receive large chunks of ownership for their investments and are active participants in the business.

Attitudes are changing. Clara Conti, for instance, was wary of debt and equity deals when she launched her first company, Aurora Enterprise Solutions, a software maker. She bootstrapped her business from a few consulting contracts, and last October she and her partners sold the enterprise for $10 million.

Now launching her second company, Ms. Conti is well aware of the advantage that a round of big financing confers on a technology company — getting it off the ground fast at a time when first movers usually win. Wearing a bright red blazer, she paced before the giant screens at the conference to make her pitch for a $10 million investment in her new venture, Red Spruce Inc., a Great Falls, Va., maker of software for computer-to- computer wireless communication.

“A couple [of venture capitalists] came by and said that they wanted to start due diligence next week,” she reported with satisfaction after her pitch.

Investors also have a stake in crossing paths with women-owned start-up companies. According to the new study, 72% of institutional investors said their approval rate for women-owned businesses was the same as for men; 6% said the rate was higher for women. Linda Powers, a partner with the $60 million venture fund, Toucan Capital, of Bethesda, Md., which invests in early-stage technology companies, said that more than two years ago, the fund hadn’t invested in any women-owned enterprises.

Indeed, its partners hadn’t reviewed a single business plan from a woman, to her chagrin. “I am genuinely surprised and embarrassed by how many great women entrepreneurs this event has brought to light,” Ms. Powers says. “I’m surprised how many are tech companies.”

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6 Comments For This Post

  1. caranisa says:

    hi,im only 10 years old and i already started worrying about my future.but i love the USA and i want to go study as well as to work there and be a successful business woman which is what i want to become so i need some help

  2. Tanya says:

    what college would be best for me to get started, or what should i do to get started?

  3. Tanya says:

    what college would be best for me?

  4. Brittney says:

    Grambling State University is a good place to attend….the motto is”Where Everybody Is Somebody” Excellent school. ♥

  5. noorina says:

    i think that woman have the right to have normal jobs that are called ‘men jobs’ but really anyone can be a buisnesswoman so i think women should stand up for their right and not be some uncared for housewife.
    At least GET a job.!.!.!.!.!…

  6. noorina says:

    yeah, women RRUULLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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