Women Entrepreneurs: The Most Important Thing You Must Do When Pitching to Investors

Last Updated Jul 19, 2011 2:01 PM EDT

Amy Millman is the president and co-founder of Springboard Enterprises, a not-for-profit "venture catalyst" with a mission to facilitate women entrepreneurs' access to the equity markets. Springboard educates, sources, coaches, showcases, and supports high growth women-led companies seeking equity capital for expansion.
"When we ask investors what they look for in a company, they say 'we invest in the jockey, not the horse.' What they really mean is they are willing to bet on a CEO who they believe would make them money. Lots of money. So if you want them to invest in you, you need to appear to be a clone of that investor, have a serious track record of delivering big returns for investor, or be able and willing to proclaim your expertise.
We work with women entrepreneurs seeking venture investments and this is what we've learned after hearing thousands of pitches by these uber-talented entrepreneurs. They have a problem talking about themselves. I'm not saying that that is the only reason why the investments in women-led companies are in the single digits, but it's definitely one of them. Most investors are men, which immediately puts women founders/CEOs at a disadvantage. Most women have not had the Google-like successes that investors can track. So that leaves one thing: being able and willing to influence by 'proclaiming your expertise' with conviction.

A decade ago, we were challenged by some Silicon Valley VCs to find venture backable companies led by women. They told us if there were any promising women led companies they would know about them. We took that challenge, and in a year over 1000 women sent us business plans. We invited about 100 to come in for interviews. Among them were Stanford PhDs in Biology, Harvard MBAs, MIT Engineers, a Naval officer, an Olympic figure skater, and an astronaut. The one thing they had in common, other than being women, was that they didn't feel comfortable talking (read: bragging) about themselves. Unless you'd read their resumes, which we hadn't shown to the investors before hand, there was little chance you'd know how capable they were to lead these companies.

In the world of venture capital, looks don't count unless you are a 20-something male geek from Tech or Poly, so you need to crow. Like our brilliant astronaut who is also a Stanford-trained engineer and a Cornell trained medical doctor, most of our female founders thought that showing what you can do was more important than telling someone what you can do. Unfortunately, unless that pedigree is proclaimed, you may not get that chance."

Photo courtesy of Flickr user springboardent, CC 2.0
  • Donna Fenn

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