Raising capital is hard enough, but did you know that less than 3 percent of venture capital investment goes to female-founded businesses? It’s no secret that the tech space has been overwhelmingly male-dominated, but in recent years, countless organizations and individuals have begun working to change this.
One of those individuals is Gerri Kahnweiler. As Founding Partner of Chicago-based InvestHER Ventures, her mission is to create funding opportunities for women who are creating technology-enabled business services, data-driven products and disruptive solutions for large markets.
In advance of her Startup Scaleup sessions, Gerri sat down with us to discuss the events that led to the creation of InvestHER, how her organization works to empower women in the tech space and where she plans to provide more access to capital for females in the future.
Can you tell us about your journey up until now? You started InvestHER, but what led you to this?
For the past 20 years, I have been a trustee with the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, a foundation that makes grants to programs that benefit women and girls. While I believe that many of the issues that the foundation was funding are best served by nonprofits, I felt that the issues around economic security would be best served in the for-profit space.
As I was finishing my term as chair of the foundation, I became aware of the lack of funding available to women in the tech startup space. Around the same time, I met my partner who was working for a VC firm as a sales and business development resource for their portfolio companies.
After months of meetings and learning about the startup space in Chicago, we decided that we needed to be a part of the solution. In 2016, we opened InvestHER Ventures to focus on creating funding opportunities for passionate female founders of tech-enabled companies.
Statistically speaking, businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to receive higher valuations, yet less than 3 percent of venture funding goes to startups led by women, why is that?
In Chicago, many of the first VC firms were formed by men who had been a part of companies that had been sold. Their employees and co-workers often moved on to be the founders of the next wave of tech startups. This established a network of men, one which became difficult for women to access.
As the tech ecosystem has expanded, more women are being hired into all levels of startup companies, as well as becoming partners at VC firms. In addition, there are now a wide variety of networking opportunities for women to meet other founders and potential investors.
Beyond funding, in what ways does InvestHER work to empower women in tech?
InvestHER Ventures is committed to talking to any woman with an idea for a tech-enabled company. In the past two years, we have spoken to nearly 800 women who lead companies of all shapes and sizes—from the idea stage, through $1 million in annual recurring revenue.
Even if we are unable to invest in a company, we are always willing to offer insights and make introductions. In addition, we are deeply involved in the Chicago startup scene. My partner teaches classes in sales and business development at the different accelerators around Chicago, and we both speak on panels and have been mentors for women through a local organization.
What’s next for you and InvestHER?
We are excited to continue meeting fabulous women who are tackling tough business problems with early-stage, data-driven companies in the Midwest. And as we move forward, I am looking to invest more of the fund’s money closer to home.
You can hear more from Gerri at her Startup Scaleup sessions. In her first session, More Women in Startups? Yes Please!, she will join a panel of female entrepreneurs, employees and investors to explore career options for women in startups.
During her second session, What Really Persuades Investors, Gerri will participate in a discussion alongside other experienced investors who will each share their approach to investing and what can make or break a deal.
Not yet registered for Startup Scaleup? Click here to get your ticket!