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Women Entrepreneurs: How to Navigate the Boys' Club of Fundraising

I can tell you from experience, fundraising is an art -- and one that can suck the life out of you.

To make matters more difficult, it's also a world where women are few. According to the Center for Women's Business Research, women launch nearly half of all privately held U.S. companies, but only 3 to 5 percent of them obtain venture capital. If you want to know more about the reasons why (it's not as simple as you think), read this WSJ article written by the CWBR's Former Executive Director Sharon Hadary.

Ladies, the odds may look like they're stacked against you in this male-dominated field, but that doesn't mean you can't find funding.

You will, however, hear "No, thanks" over and over. But keep in mind that guys hear that, too. Don't beat yourself up about it or think you failed. "Men simply don't do that -- or if they do, they hide it damn well," says Carla Thompson, founder and CEO of, an online network for female entrepreneurs. The key is to keep knocking until you hear a "yes."

Investors are mostly followers, not leaders -- meaning they seem to follow the same investment patterns. So if you are a 20-something male tech geek with zero people skills, you'll get funded. It's unfair, I know, but the sooner you get over it, the better. "It is what it is but you can't be disabled by it," says Susan Strausberg, founder and past CEO of EDGAROnline. "Leave your emotions at the door."

Here's a quick rundown of your main funding options -- and how to navigate the boys' club every step of the way:
1. "Purse-strapping" as I like to call it, although it is more commonly known as bootstrapping. It is the first step in funding. At this stage your biggest worry shouldn't be about getting past the male gatekeepers; it should be about finding a way to keep your day job until you need to be at your startup 70 hours a week or more. I and my other female co-founder ran our startup PetsMD on a shoestring budget for months, which meant we survived by eating every type of Ramen noodle on the market. Find mentors to help guide you and to provide some concrete "been there" advice while you're getting started.

2. Angel Investors. Once you see that there is a real potential for your company (this means you have actual users/customers, not that you simply love your own idea), then talk angel investors.

This is where you enter the first phase of the boy's club. We hit the angel trail hard and were turned down by at least three dozen or so until we found the one who said "yes." I even had one investor ask me if we had any men working for us! I presented at a local angel group and brought along my "guy-in-a-suit" to sit at the table while I did a presentation to the investment group. After the presentations were over and we were mingling with investors, about 80% of them spoke to him and not me, even when we were standing shoulder to shoulder. He was great and continued to say," Well, you should really be talking to Tina, our CEO and founder" and pointed to his left.

For the most part, I've managed to fit right in with these investor types because I am an aggressive and rather forward businesswoman who can speak "guy" pretty well. If you have no idea what that means, then tune into a sports newscast â€"- do you understand it? It's no fluff, they throw around all kinds of code words, and they cut right to the chase. This is how you need to think. Go into the meeting well prepared to tell them what you are about and exactly what you want.

I know many of my readers will argue that women shouldn't have to "conform" to men. My response is always the same: You can't change the game unless you are in it.

For help on getting started, look into women startup organizations, like Women 2.0, Golden Seeds, SpringBoard Enterprises, and Astia.

3. Venture Capital remains a good old-boy network: Only 10% of VCs are women and women-founded startups have historically received less than 7% of total venture funding.

If you have real traction in your company/product, you've done the research to prove your business model, and you believe that VC funding is the next step, then get ready. Have everything you need for the meeting because the six guys that went before you that same afternoon did. Leave no room for error. This is when you will need to be able to speak fluidly about your vertical/industry. You will know more than they do, so show it. But you also must have all of your ducks in a row on your financials because this is where they will know more and they will try to show it, too. Clearly ask for what you want and state explicitly what you will use the funds for as well as what they can expect as exit options.
Lastly, be ready to have the door slammed. But keep in mind, the VCs slam the door in many faces at this level. The nice thing is, there is always another door around the corner. Come on ladies-- We can do it!

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