Finally, a start-up funding forum where the high heels outnumber the wingtips

From left to right, Melissa Schipke, Morgan Berman, and Jane Hoffer speak at a funding conference for women entrepreneurs Thursday.

“Clearly, this seminar is much needed.”

That’s how Marc Kramer greeted a gathering Thursday morning in Center City, the significance of which had everything to do with the gender breakdown in the room: women, 61; men, 10.

Women Raising Capital, a conference that took place at law firm Fox Rothschild LLP, was organized by Kramer, executive director of the Private Investors Forum, in response to my coverage in May of that group’s signature event, the Angel Venture Fair.

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN
Mumbi Dunjwa, founder and CEO of Naturaz hair care, asks a question during the Women Raising Capital conference, a rare female-focused event in the world of start-up financing.

At 19 years old, AVF is the longest-running and largest such affair in the Mid-Atlantic region, and is considered a valuable opportunity for start-ups throughout the world to connect with investors. And, as my story pointed out, it is a very, very male institution. The venue, the Union League, admitted its first female  members in 1986.

In an effort to address the first line in that May story – Why are there so few women here? – Kramer, an executive-in-residence at St. Joseph's University whose two daughters have started their own businesses, immediately got busy pulling together a seminar for entrepreneurial women about raising funding and appealing to investors.

To the latter point, Thursday’s participants heard from six investors, all men. In his welcoming remarks, Kramer addressed that seemingly odd complement, considering the event’s backstory: “Because the vast majority of investors are men.”

That declaration followed a litany of male-centric research findings Kramer read to set the stage for the panel discussions that followed. They included:

• Female entrepreneurs are awarded, on average, 25 percent of the funding they seek, while men, on average, get 52 percent of their ask.

• Female-founded companies raised 17 percent of all seed dollars awarded in 2016, 13 percent of early-stage funding, and 7 percent of late-stage investments, allocations that have not substantially changed in five years.

At times, the audience groaned. Kramer pressed on, seeming to use the data as a personal rallying cry for more programs like Thursday’s.

“Is this a one-off? No,” Kramer told the women who filled the 20th-floor conference room. “We’re going to keep running this until we see those numbers change, where there is parity.”

His next line elicited some snickers: “I guess we’ll be running this for a lot of years going forward.”

On the agenda was a panel discussion with four women who have started businesses and raised funding: Morgan Berman, of MilkCrate; Jane Hoffer, of BrainRewards; Melissa Schipke, of Tassl; and Candace Kilstein, currently an executive-in-residence at Temple University, where she mentors entrepreneurs. Kilstein also is working on an app for female entrepreneurs. All underscored the importance of networking, having a good story to tell, and aligning only with like-minded investors.

Founders of two health-care start-ups — Forge Life Science of Doylestown and Astarte Medical Partners of Yardley— each got 10 minutes to pitch to the investor panel for feedback on their pitch techniques, not to get money. The investors — Patrick Connolly, Glen Gaddy, Ben Goldberg, Richard Anthony, Lonnie Sciambi, and Howard Lubert — were generous with praise and criticism.

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN
Lillian Chiang, CEO of Forge Life Science (far right), participates in a learning pitch with an all-male panel of investors at the Women Raising Capital conference Thursday.

During a question-and-answer session, investors acknowledged occasional discomfort getting pitched on companies specializing in women-related products — bras, for instance. Yet they insisted that their investment decisions are not influenced by the sex of those seeking funding, just their businesses.

“We bet on jockeys, not horses. … It’s never about sex,” said Lubert, area president of Keiretsu Forum Mid-Atlantic Region, which will be hosting a panel discussion called “Women of Purpose and Value in Angel Investing” during its fifth annual Angel Capital Expo on Oct. 19 at the Union League. More information and registration is available at http://KeiretsuForum-MidAtlantic.com/Angel-Capital-Expo.

Several women who attended the event Thursday called it “a good start” on a journey that still has far to go.

“We need to build a community, not just a forum,” said Katie DeLorenzo, cofounder and CEO of WeGardn.

6 Investor Tips for Start-Ups:

  1. Have a compelling business story to tell.
  2. Keep pitches free of too much science.
  3. Outside investors are more likely to invest in a company if its founders have done so.
  4. Be able to show why your product or service is needed.
  5. Have a team that can execute your business plan.
  6. Have an exit strategy.